“Purim is about bringing happiness and laughter, forgetting your troubles for a little while,” said Naomi Gerstenblith, a member of B’nai Israel Congregation.
For the first anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic, Gerstenblith devised a way to bring happiness and laughter to an isolated congregation. For the traditional Purim shpiel, the humorous retelling of the Purim story, she adopted the story of Peter Pan, recorded it and livestreamed it to synagogue members.
Gerstenblith adapted “The Peter Pan Purim Spiel” from the “Peter Pan” Broadway musical. “I Won’t Grow Up” became “I Won’t Bow Down,” a reference to Jews not submitting to Haman.
Thirty-four kids appeared in the show. Each recorded their lines separately, and their performances were edited together.
After a year of pandemic, “the kids need something exciting to look forward to.” Gerstenblith said. “They’ve gotten so much taken away from them.”
Last Purim, Gerstenblith directed a parody of “The Wizard of Oz.” The performance took place just as governments were ordering the end of large in-person gatherings.
“We literally got the show in like two days before the world shut down,” Gerstenblith said. “Last year’s carnival was the last time we were together as a congregation,” said Senior Rabbi Michael Safra. “I’m just thrilled to be able to celebrate Purim this year.”
The show was streamed after the congregation’s youth megillah reading on Feb. 25. But cast and family got to attend a drive-in movie-style advanced screening on Feb. 21. From their cars in the synagogue parking lot, the audience watched the show projected on a large screen. Gerstenblith compared the event to a Hollywood movie premiere.
“I was trying to think of a way to bring people together in a big way, and this is what I came up with,” she said of the screening.
Maddie Minoff, a second grader who had two roles in the show, was there with her family.
“It was really fun. I liked doing all the songs,” Maddie said, adding that performing in last year’s show was still more fun, “because I got to be on stage.”
Gerstenblith was glad the kids saw a payoff for their hard work.
“It’s just so rewarding to see the kids be enthusiastic and put effort toward something and then have their work pay off in an exciting way,” Gerstenblith said.