Shaina Cohn, left, portrays Judah fighting a Greek soldier played by Peri Rothman during a performance of Maccabees, A Live Hanukkah Adventure! Both are from Pittsburgh.
Last Monday, which was the eighth and final day of Hanukkah, a group of nine children and a few parents stepped through a curtained doorway and entered a time machine.
Professor Schnoodle, a wild-eyed scientist with bushy hair, thick round glasses, and a lab coat, introduced himself and his assistant, Professor Schnitzel, then began pushing a series of buttons to get his time machine humming.
Lights started flashing, gears began spinning, and the professor became increasingly excited as his gigantic machine gained momentum.
"Fasten your kippahs, everyone!" Professor Schnoodle warned, sparking laughter from the young audience members.
The humorous video was the first scene in an interactive journey for children titled Maccabees: A Live Hanukkah Adventure!, presented six times this week at Chabad House-Lubavitch in West Toledo.
The time machine "transported" the audience 22 centuries back in time to the year 3594 on the Jewish calendar (which is now in year 5769).
The play was presented at Chabad House-Lubavitch in West Toledo and starred a small cast of teenage girls from Yeshiva Schools in Pittsburgh. The actors, accompanied by a few prerecorded videos and audio segments, re-created events that led to the annual observance of Hanukkah.
The key to the Jewish holiday's history is the victory of a small band of Jews known as Maccabees over tyrannical King Antiochus IV of the Seleucid Dynasty, a Greek monarch who ruled Jerusalem from Syria.
Miriam Shafransky, 10, eats a fried doughnut as Halie Johnstone, 11, observes, after a performance of Maccabees.
The cast, each playing a number of roles, led their guests from room to room, each decorated as a scene from ancient Israel and nearby regions. The settings included King Antiochus' throne room, a marketplace in Jerusalem, a cave where the Maccabees were hiding, and the Second Temple.
Antiochus was trying to destroy Jewish civilization by issuing decrees forbidding the Jews from practicing some of their key religious rites and customs, including circumcision, observances of the sabbath, and eating kosher foods.
"Are you from around here?" one of the King's Hellenist guards asked the crowd. A few children nodded and said yes.
"You're from Macedonia? Or Mesopotamia?"
"No, Toledo," the kids replied with a laugh.
In the marketplace, a Hellenist showed the children an altar that had been set up for Jews to sacrifice pigs, a ritual that would go against their religious teachings.
When an actor portraying a Jew was sentenced to death for refusing to obey the king's decrees, a Maccabee jumped onto the altar and flashed an aluminum-foil covered sword.
It was Judah to the rescue.
"Leave these children alone!" he shouted, chasing off the king's guards. He introduced himself to the audience, adding that his nickname was "Super Jew or Big Mac."
"It's not safe to be here," he warned the children, ushering them into the next room, a "secret cave" set up under a low cloth ceiling in the Chabad House foyer.
The cave is where the Maccabees learned the Torah and trained to be brave and strong fighters, Yehudah told the children.
From inside the cave, the Maccabees are surprised to hear the sounds of approaching army.
"We will prove that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness," a Maccabee warrior said, rushing out to meet Antiochus' troops.
The last scene of the play took place inside the Jerusalem Temple that had been desecrated by the Hellenists. The Maccabees recaptured the Temple and lit oil-fueled candles on an eight-branched menorah.
Looking around for oil, the Maccabees found enough to burn for just one night. But the menorah burned miraculously for eight nights, they told the children, which is the reason today's celebration of Hanukkah lasts eight days, with a candle lit at sunset each day.
Afterward, the children in the audience were treated to doughnuts because foods chosen for Hanukkah are always those that are cooked in oil.
The cast and crew from Pittsburgh said they adapted the original Maccabees play, which was first performed in Brooklyn in 2006.
"There were a lot of sleepless nights getting ready, but it was very fulfilling and a lot of fun," said Mushky Weiss, 17.
Julie Fruchtman, of Sylvania, who attended the play with her daughter, 9-year-old Sophia Yakumithis, said Chabad House programs "are always fabulous. They do so much for the community."
Sophia said she especially enjoyed a scene in which the actors were lip-synching to a recorded song.
Five-year-old Ella Richards of Toledo, enjoying a chocolate-covered donut after the program, said her favorite scene was when she was hiding in the cave and heard the king's army approaching.
- David Yonke
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