Israel’s first religious “dinner theater” premiered in Jerusalem on Wednesday night, starring an all-hareidi-religious cast. The audience came away satiated, both victually and culturally.
Produced by Simcha Inc., the show, entitled Dinner with Simcha, is a dramatic comedy that provides an inside look into the seemingly mysterious world of Chassidim in Israel. Its producers say it is the only show in the world written by, directed by, and starring a full cast of hareidi-religious Jews.
The first premier performance was held last night at Prima Palace Hotel in downtown Jerusalem. The second is scheduled for next Tuesday, before a near-full house. The show’s narrator, known as Simcha Kolzman (literally, Joy All the Time), mingled cheerfully with the audience/diners in-between acts of the play recounting his life history - in story, song, and flashbacks to joyous occasions.
The play is the story of a mischievous Chassidic boy who stumbles along his journey through life, abruptly finding himself – at the age of 20 – preparing, like his peers, for marriage, for which he isn't ready. He has also moved from New York to Israel in the meantime. With the help of his father, alter-ego, and desperate prayer, he finally undergoes the necessary growth helping him to overcome the obstacles in his life - mainly himself.
Simcha’s wife – not seen, of course, in accordance with hareidi customs of modesty – is a strong behind-the-scenes force. In the end, her identity comes as a surprise to the audience…
Yerachmiel Weiss, a former New Yorker who moved to Israel as a yeshiva student with Aish HaTorah, is the man responsible for bringing playwright and director Daniel Rubin’s screenplay to the Israeli stage. He was asked by Israel National News to describe his target audience.
“Many tourists who come to Israel are not at all familiar with Chassidic Jews,” Weiss said, “and view them as stern, foreign characters. We would like to attract them to our stage and enable them to see how the Chassidim come to life! The play depicts them as full of happiness, even as they undergo some difficult, real-life situations together with the many joyous occasions of the Jewish life cycle.”
His words remained with me as I walked home afterwards; every time I passed a hareidi-religious Jew on the street – frequently enough, in that neighborhood – I found myself expecting him to break out in song and a broad smile!
Weiss expects that there will be a market for the show. Though tickets are not cheap by Israeli standards, “they are quite reasonable for Americans – especially as they include a three-course meal at the same time!”
“As naturally as music, food, drink, and dancing run throughout Jewish life-events,” the organizers say, "so too do these elements run thematically throughout the performance. In combination with the theater experience, Dinner with Simcha is a sensory journey: taste, smell, vision, touch, sound, and soul.”