Who is Hershel?
With the first nips of crisp Fall weather in the air, and piles of pumpkins lining the entrances to our grocery stores, we can be sure of one thing – the Holiday Season is just around the corner! And just in time to get folks in the mood for Hanukkah, this year the J is offering an exciting treat in the form of the new play, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins.
If the title sounds familiar, it’s because this play is a new stage adaptation of the beloved, Caldecott Award-winning children’s book of the same name. Now in print for over 25 years, the delightful book by Eric Kimmel has been read by generations of parents to their wide-eyed children. But who is the celebrated Hershel who, in this tale, rids a small village of the Goblins that haunt its ancient synagogue?
Though many may not know it, Hershel of Ostropol, the famous figure of Yiddish folklore is believed to be based on a real person who lived in the Ukraine around the turn of the 19th century. While many of the traditional “Hershel” tales take place as he travels from one village to another, the common thread running through most is that he is an impoverished trickster who uses his sharp wits to outsmart others, either for simple survival or to help others in need. According to some, the real “Hershele” eventually rose, through recognition of his keen wit, to become a sort of semi-official “jester” to Rabbi Boruch of Medzhybizh, who needed someone like Hershel to help ward off his well-known episodes of temper and melancholy.
The real Hershele is believed to have died of a fatal accident brought about by one of the Rabbi’s fits of anger, and is thought to be buried in an unmarked grave in the old Jewish cemetery in Medzhybizh.
The J’s new stage adaptation, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, expands from the story in Mr. Kimmel’s book to include some additional Hershel of Ostropol tales, giving its audiences a broader context to increase their appreciation of the legendary Hershel. Also added to the original story in this family-friendly play are four songs featuring new lyrics set to traditional Hanukkah tunes, accompanying Hershel’s exploits. The J is proud to be offering the world premiere of this newly commissioned play. Adapted for the stage by Steve Garfinkel, coordinator for the J’s Theatre Program, and directed by veteran Children’s Theatre expert Ted Giles, “Hershel” is the first production written especially for and completely produced by the J in more than 10 years.
Hershel and the Hannukah Goblins opens at The Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center’s Kaplan Theatre with a performance on Sunday, November 6, 2016 at 10:30 a.m. and then followed by performances at the J on December 25 at 10:30 a.m. and December27 at 1:00 p.m. and at the Children’s Museum of Houston on December 28 at 1:00 p.m.