Congregation Beth Israel is Back with Purim Shpiel

The fun starts tonight at 6:30 p.m. on Facebook Live

By Marice Richter

Two months after a gunman’s attack on our synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas the festival of Purim is more meaningful than ever for us.

As we boo Haman and cheer the resiliency of the Jewish people, we also celebrate our ability to overcome our own adversity, pick ourselves up and move forward with one of our most beloved traditions: a Purim Shpiel.

It has been a challenge to say the least. After Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and two other hostages escaped from anti-Semitic gunman Malik Faisal Akram, a British national, tactical officers from the FBI Hostage Rescue Team entered the building and fatally shot Akram. A fourth hostage was released earlier in the day.

In the process of ending the 11-hour standoff, the building was badly damaged and has been under refurbishment ever since.

Thanks to the generosity of the Colleyville community, we have had donated places to worship and conduct business since the Jan. 15 attack.

This evening’s Purim Shpiel will be presented in one of those donated spaces. Our cast and crew will not have had an opportunity to rehearse in this space even once beforehand.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker stars as Vashti in Congregation Beth Israel’s Purim Shpiel.

We expect there might be some gaffes but there almost always was. We have never been able to rehearse to perfection because we all have day jobs.

Just presenting a shpiel under the circumstances will be cathartic for all of us.

Original Purim shpiels have been part of the DNA of CBI for many years.  Rabbi Charlie has always reveled in the silliness and telling the story of Esther through revised lyrics to popular, well-known songs.

Our Shpiels have encompassed a wide range of themes, from Saturday Night Live-type skits and to Disney tales, plays and movies such as Grease and Dirty Dancing to the music of rock legends such as The Beatles and Billy Joel.

We began planning for this year’s Purim shpiel before the January attack with the intention of it being the Best of Broadway. Songs were selected and lyrics for a few of the song were recreated for the shpiel by Rabbi Charlie beforehand.

But life changed dramatically after Jan. 15. So, we pivoted. We decided we wanted to go-ahead with a shpiel, which would be the last for Rabbi Charlie because he is leaving us for a new position in Winston-Salem, N.C., in the summer.

We rationalized that if we could present our shpiel last year under the challenges of the pandemic, when vaccines were not yet widely available, we could do it this year. 

Last year, a member who had a side gig as a videographer filmed our shpiel one person at a time so we could all social distance in the sanctuary and remain safe from covid.

With the filming complete, our videographer had the shpiel about put together when a disastrous February ice storm knocked out power across Texas.

All the work was lost and had to done over two weeks before Purim. But he managed and we were all so pleased and proud with the outcome.

This evening, we will present the Best of CBI Purim Shpiel, a compilation of songs from our past shpiels along with new narration.

It will be bittersweet for us, particularly for those of us who have been involved with the shpiel for a long time, but it truly will be a triumph over adversity and a testament to our tenacity.

The Best of CBI’s Purim Shpiel can be view on Facebook Live at 6:30 p.m. this evening.

Marice Richter is a founding member of Congregation Beth Israel, a professional journalist and long-time Purim shpiel writer.

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  1. Michael Finfer

    It was a really great time, but we look forward to being back in our home soon to celebrate Passover.

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