It was the day after Yom Kippur when all through the shul — Sorry!
If a Christmas reference seems inappropriate in a story about Purim, blame Cantor Marnie Camhi. For her, evidently, inspiration can come from anywhere.
The cantor, a clergy member at Temple Beth Miriam in Elberon, has transformed all sorts of pop and cultural phenomena into Purimshpiels — holiday skits based on the Queen Esther story.
Honoring a tradition of parody that goes back centuries, she has written and performed shpiels based on Disney, television shows, and Broadway musicals. Her parodies include The Little Mermaid, The Big Bang Theory, and Bye Bye Birdie — or in Camhi’s version, Bye Bye Vashti.
The latest, an adaptation of Disney’s wildly popular film Frozen, was born on that day after Yom Kippur last year. According to Camhi, Beth Miriam’s Rabbi Cy Stanway and she “are very organized and we like to have our plans worked out. So we started talking about Purim, and how other congregations had used Purimshpiels as fund-raisers, and discussed what are the hot topics that would be accessible for which age groups.
“I said, ‘What if I wrote one based on Frozen?’”
With a four-year-old daughter obsessed with the movie, the tunes from Frozen were embedded in her brain. Riffing off them came easily. “In less than three hours, it was done,” she said.
Her way with a tune didn’t come out of nowhere. Growing up in Wantagh, NY, Camhi loved musical theater, and studied it in college. She took the lead in shows, while also participating in congregational singing. She names as one of her primary role models Arlene Bernstein, the cantor of the synagogue her family attended, the former Suburban Temple, who went on to become a rabbi.
Camhi was a member of the youth choir and a teaching assistant. Seeing Bernstein combine a love of music with a passion for Judaism, she thought, “This is something I want; this can be a real career.”
She studied at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, received a master’s in sacred music, and was ordained in 2006.
The Frozen shpiel, put on by Camhi and Beth Miriam members, runs, like her other presentations, for about half an hour — “perfect for religious school, or a service, and accessible for everyone from pre-K up,” she said. It can be performed by a cast as small as 15 or as large as 25, with or without costumes.
Camhi and Stanway have even turned the shpiels into a modest benefit for Beth Miriam, selling copies to other congregations. They have already sold 70. For $72, buyers get a script with music and lyrics, mp3s with and without vocals, and CD labels.
And the reviews have been strong. When Camhi plucked up the courage to send a script of The Big Bang Theory shpiel to one of its stars, Mayim Bialik, the observant Jewish actress responded with delight. “I especially loved what you did with the theme song!” she wrote back.
Beth Miriam “is very blessed to have her,” Stanway said of the cantor. “She is a phenomenal partner to work with, with such dedication and creativity, and a passion for children. She has also shown how resourceful she can be.”
To find out more or order a Purimshpiel, go to templebethmiriam.org/creative-purim-spiels.