STORY WRITTENBY CHERYL THORNBURG
For Digital First Media
When Congregation Hesed Shel Emet president Amy Wolf saw “Fiddler on the Roof” on Steel River Playhouse’s schedule, she immediately got the idea for holding an event in conjunction with the production of “Fiddler.” Rabbi Ira M. Flax was on board and suggested holding the Friday night service at the theater itself. That way, “The show becomes part of our Shabbat service, and thus the concept of “Shabbat and a Show” was born,” he said.
Traditionally, most congregations are insular, Rabbi Flax said. “This is a great way to take things outside the walls of the synagogue. There needs to be a way to be relevant in today’s society.”
Steel River representatives Leena Devlin and Velva Zarley welcomed the concept, which becomes reality Friday, May 13 at Steel River Playhouse in Pottstown. It will feature a Friday night Shabbat service, followed by the opening night presentation of “Fiddler on the Roof,” with refreshments during intermission. Proceeds will benefit Congregation Hesed Shel Emet in Pottstown.
The Shabbat service starts at 6:45 p.m., in the theater’s Newberry Loft, led by the Congregation’s Rabbi Flax. Following the service, guests will move downstairs for curtain time at 7:30 p.m. Guests will enjoy an Oneg (“joy” or “delight”) of refreshments during intermission in the Newberry Loft. After the show, there will be a talk-back where director Michael Licata, Rabbi Flax and the cast will answer questions.
“We are very excited to combine the joy of our Friday night Shabbat service with this wonderful production of “Fiddler on the Roof,”” said Congregation Hesed Shel Emet President, Amy Wolf. “Our friends at Steel River Playhouse have been very easy to work with in making the vision of this event a reality.”
“Preselling tickets for the event and offering an Oneg will allow congregants and others to enjoy the show without breaking the Jewish restriction against exchanging money on the Sabbath,” Wolf said. “We think this will be a fun way to celebrate Shabbat and invite others in the surrounding area to join with us for this unique fundraiser.”
“We couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome our friends from Hesed Shel Emet for this very special event”, said Devlin, managing artistic director of Steel River Playhouse.
“To quote Robin Wagner, Tony-winning set designer, “Until ‘Fiddler,’ musicals only spoke to the immediate generation. ‘Fiddler’ showed how a musical could speak to all generations and cultures.” What a perfect piece to bring together friends and neighbors in our community.”
“Fiddler on the Roof, which won nine Tony awards including best musical,” is based on “Tevye and his Daughters” by Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916) who actually lived through the pogroms in Russia. That background is what gives the story such authenticity according to Rabbi Flax. “It’s like a Jewish ‘Our Town’ about the daily goings-on.”
Rabbi Flax shared a story by famed comedian Alan King about the subject, which is recounted in King’s autobiography, “Name-Dropping: The Life and Lies of Alan King.” When King took his mother, Minnie, to see “Fiddler on the Roof,” he thought the fictional village of Anatevka might bring back memories of her own childhood village. “And when the show was over and we were back on the street,” King wrote, “I said, ‘Ma, how did you enjoy it? Did it bring back memories?’ ‘It was wonderful,’ she said. ‘Only I don’t remember so much singing.””
There’s plenty of singing in “Fiddler” and the songs and characters are memorable, as will be the experience of “Shabbat and a Show.”