Acting Up, for the Better

The audience was enthusiastic, though noisy at times. But that's to be expected at a children's program – in this case, interaction with two actors from Theater Ariel who presented a program of Jewish folk tales to the Neziner Hebrew School of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Center City.

More than 50 students – from preschoolers to the hey class – enjoyed the program, part of the school's official "Community Days." The event was funded by the synagogue's Sisterhood, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Jewish Life and Learning. This is one of 25 such programs that Federation issued grants for since September.

Jewish Theater Initiative grants meet two major directives of the center, according to Rabbi Bonnie Goldberg, senior plan-ner: "This program enhances supplemental-school experiences, and is part of our efforts to help parents and children participate in Jewish life. Theater can be a learning tool that engages them and teaches in an enjoyable way."

The laughter of the children showed just that as they watched the actors, Margie Goldman and Kali Colton, change characters with swift exchanges of scarves, hats and props in the five tales they acted out.

There was the tale of the queen who was so bored she went on a secret foray into her kingdom and ate a delicious meal at the home of a hospitable Jewish woman. None of the world's great chefs could duplicate it. Returning to the woman's home intent on finding out why not, she was told the secret ingredient – it was Shabbat!

Students ran to participate in the tale of the woman whose house was crowded with in-laws, children and visitors. She asked for God's help, and was told to bring farm animals (played by students) into her home. When she was unable to walk, talk or sleep, she pleaded for help again, and was told to let each animal out, one at a time. The resulting quiet and space was wonderful.

Students gave their critiques after the playlets.

"The interaction was cool," said Goldie Robins, 9, from the bet class. Classmate David Ludwig said that he "liked going up on the stage, and learned two things: Don't let a cow in your house and get used to what you have."

Hannah Utain-Evans, 13, of the hey class, found the program "creative," and also pointed out that it could be done "without spending a lot of money." And Max Cohen from the hey class thought it was "really good the way the actors changed character and made transitions."

And what did the actors think of the performance?

"Theater engages in ways storybooks can't," attested Goldman. "I like to watch the kids faces and see them holler out when they 'get it.' It's a way to capture lessons and make learning exciting. There is also a sweetness to the playlets."

"Theater is a way to keep the Jewish oral tradition alive," added Colton. "It shows students how much fun live theater can be, and hopefully, it can encourage them to do something active, rather than watching television."

The Theater Ariel performance was one of eight "Community Days" the Neziner Hebrew School has held throughout the school year, including the creation of a large wall hanging of tiles made by more than 30 families in the school, a book fair and upcoming Israeli dance lessons by the Rak-DAN company.

"Our goal is to help children and parents develop lifelong ties to the community by bringing all the students together, creating a bridge from preschoolers to those who will soon celebrate their B'nai Mitzvot," said Cindy Kushner, the school's principal. "It benefits both groups. The Hebrew-school kids help with programming for the little ones, and they get to see what they will enjoy in the upper grades."

More info? Call Rabbi Bonnie Goldberg at 215-832-0665.


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