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Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins: Livestream

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Well-known over the years through plays, poems, books and stage shows, Hershel is believed to be based on an actual person, a court jester to Rabbi Boruch of Medzhybizh to help the rabbi soften his temper and ease his melancholia. Now, he’s pranking the goblins to music.

The Dec. 9 show is special for so many reasons.

First, it features as guest narrator Fred Savage, a Temple member, actor, producer,  director and television star whose career blossomed when he starred in The Wonder Years.

The cast features the UCLA Klezmer Ensemble, the JewkBox acapella group and students from UCLA’s Department of Theater, Film and Television, including Scott Senior, a cantorial soloist whose voice has graced countless services at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The show is produced by Lorry Black, Associate Director of the Lowell Milken Fund for American Jewish Music at UCLA.

More than anything, it celebrates a fanciful interpretation of the Chanukah story, which, absent from any place in the Torah, leaves writers, readers and viewers free to apply their own metaphors and analysis.

Hershel’s is a timeless story, starring a favorite Jewish folk hero of Jews worldwide. As a trickster, Hershel of Ostropol uses wits and guile to overcome eight goblins over the course of Chanukah, culminating in a showdown with the King of the Goblins himself on the eighth night. A fictional character, Hershel grew up poor in the Ukraine town of Ostropol and gained his renown by targeting the rich and powerful, Jew and non-Jew, with his tricks.

Well-known over the years through plays, poems, books and stage shows, Hershel is believed to be based on an actual person, a court jester to Rabbi Boruch of Medzhybizh to help the rabbi soften his temper and ease his melancholia. Now, he’s pranking the goblins to music.

The Dec. 9 show is special for so many reasons.

First, it features as guest narrator Fred Savage, a Temple member, actor, producer,  director and television star whose career blossomed when he starred in The Wonder Years.

The cast features the UCLA Klezmer Ensemble, the JewkBox acapella group and students from UCLA’s Department of Theater, Film and Television, including Scott Senior, a cantorial soloist whose voice has graced countless services at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The show is produced by Lorry Black, Associate Director of the Lowell Milken Fund for American Jewish Music at UCLA.

More than anything, it celebrates a fanciful interpretation of the Chanukah story, which, absent from any place in the Torah, leaves writers, readers and viewers free to apply their own metaphors and analysis.

Goblins at Chanukah?

Writing last year in Tablet, Alexander Aciman drew this conclusion of Kimmel’s story: “It stands out because it’s hard to put your finger on what exactly the real story of Hanukkah is to begin with. Is it that they tried to kill us and we won, or the miracle of the oil, or the story of Jews refusing to practice in secret? With Hanukkah, we aren’t really celebrating one thing, and so it inevitably becomes a holiday of naked projection. Which into say, the best Hanukkah literature has always been children’s books, and sometimes you get to write about goblins.”

For all of Hershel’s public appearances, this production is believed to be the first as a musical. "In this context, I've taken the work that I've been doing with the klezmer ensemble that I work regularly with at UCLA and we've been using the music from our klezmer ensemble and integrating it into the actual storytelling of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblin,” the producer Black said. “To my knowledge, this is the first time somebody has taken a klezmer band and put it to a reading of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. I've got to say, because klezmer has its roots in eastern Europe there is inherently a nice connection to Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, which takes place in Poland.”

From the author’s standpoint, Hershel’s interactions with goblins woven into a holiday story represented an effort to cast a Jewish hero in a more vigorous and favorable light. “It’s a patchwork quilt of things,” Kimmel once told Publishers Weekly, looking back on his inspiration. “For every Jewish kid growing up in the ’50s, like me, the Christmas stuff was magnificent, and the Jewish stuff was, frankly, pretty lame. You have the story of the Maccabees, which is kind of exciting when you’re 10, but once you’ve heard it a few times, you get sick of it. I thought, ‘Why not try to write a decent Chanukah story?’ ”

And why not add music, which was another way to enhance the story. "The challenges of putting on the production are, I'd say, the challenges of putting on any musical or production, working on a limited timeline, bringing together actors and musicians who have never worked together to just, on the spot, create something brand new," Black said. "It's always a little bit of a challenge when you're creating a production from scratch. We were going from storybook to score to scripted reading...there's a big jump there. So we have had to fill in that gap and it's been a lot of fun."

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