Jews on Broadway





What does “Birthday Party” and “Purim Party” and “Jews on Broadway” have to do with Temple Beth Am?

On December 1, 1950, our Congregation held its first Friday evening service at the Empire Fire Hall. The first Seder took place on April 22, 1951, at a congregant's home. Camp Avenue Fire Hall housed our first High Holy Day Services. We didn't have a building of our own until December, 1954. Our Temple will be celebrating its 64th birthday a year from now; however, believe it or not, our library was formed one year before we had a building, on January 10, 1954. It is the birthday of our library that we are celebrating on its Diamond Anniversary.

Now, why the Purim Party? We do this because Jews traditionally have “Purim Shpiels” at Purim celebrations. Purim Shpiels are plays put on by amateurs. Sometime around June 1953 while our temple was still without a home, our congregants created a “Theater Company” and put on “Arsenic and Old Lace”.

And now, why “Jews on Broadway”? I recently viewed a magnificent PBS Public Broadcasting Service video about Jews on Broadway entitled: “Broadway Musicals…A Jewish Legacy”. Having seen this beautiful presentation it occurred to me it would be a good way to meld the creation of our library with our founding congregant’s interest in theater.

60 years ago our founding fathers and mothers started a Library and a Theater Company without a building. Wouldn't it be appropriate to celebrate the Library‘s anniversary with a years celebration of Jewish Musical Theater?

Let me tell you some of the history of our Jewish Library. It is called the “Patricia Morris Memorial Library”. A review of the Temple’s Corporate Minutes indicate that on June 14, 1953 our Board of Trustees set up a “fund” called “The Patsy Morris Fund”. The best I could discover was that Patsy was a relative of one of our congregants. She was ill and subsequently died. Money was raised in her name apparently for her medical needs and care and after her death those funds were used to purchase books for the new library without a home. As I said earlier, the plaque on the door of our library states the date of inception for our library was January 10, 1954. That was also the date she died. On May 6, 1954 they gave our library its then-official name: “Maimonides Library dedicated to the Memory of Patsy Morris”. Somehow the Maimonides was superseded by Patsy’s official name “Patricia”.

The first allocation of some of the funds raised by the Patsy Morris Fund was made on September 9, 1954.  A motion was made to spend $60, but the board approved only $50 to be used to purchase 16 books to be used as a circulation library since we had no official library then. On September 23rd they actually purchased the books and corrected Patsy’s name to Patricia, and also kept the “Maimonides” portion of its title.

Our Patricia Morris Library came to life on December 5, 1954 when the cornerstone was installed, and on December 17th when its first Friday night service was held in the brand new Temple.

We hope you will help us celebrate our 60th Diamond Anniversary. We are aiming to hold our birthday party sometime around January 10, 2014, details to be announced in the future. We have the video, Broadway Musicals…A Jewish Legacy which we will present at our anniversary event. It has bits and pieces of Westside Story, Funny Girl, Wicked, and Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, La Cage aux Folles, etc. There are conversations and interviews throughout with the Jewish writers and composers responsible for these shows.

Monthly throughout the year we will conduct a “Theater Workshop” in our library where we will discuss a particular musical, hear an interview by its writer or composer, talk about it and then see an actual presentation of that musical. I wish to note here that our library has many wonderful books about Jewish theater, Broadway Theater and Hollywood. We will continue this format until March of 2015, Purim time…and have a Purim Shpiel…hopefully a Jewish version of one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas.

You may wish to borrow Jews on Broadway where the author tells us that the Jews of Broadway were influenced by Purim Shpiels and says:

There are some who link the Jewish involvement in theater to the plays created and performed for the holiday Purim, called Purim Shpiels. The holiday custom dates back centuries and recounts the events outlined in the book of Esther. Joyous in nature, the shpiels were originally designed to be family entertainment, and today are often presented for young children to learn the story of the holiday. However, in 16thcentury, Purim Shpiels turned into “professional performances with groups of touring actors playing the roles, complete with costumes and makeup. By offering a mocking commentary, the Purim Shpiel presented a Jewish version of political justice in the world, not unlike the political satire that would become a large part of the Jewish playwright's repertoire. Performing, for the Jewish people, was also a manner of self-expression in societies in which they dealt with persecution. It was a means of storytelling outside of the synagogue, which was especially important when the Jewish people were unable to practice their religion publicly. Theater also served as a means of growth and learning when formal education was hard to come by.”

If you would like to borrow a copy of “The Jews of Broadway” or one of the other books on this subject, call Jerry Medowar at 623-6739 or e-mail him at