Every year Jews for Racial and Economic Justice co-sponsors a collaboratively-created, radical Purimshpil (party and performance). Focused on the most compelling issues facing our society today and featuring puppets, raucous music, live theater, dancing, and many (many) homemade hamantaschen, it might just be New York City’s most exciting, educational, and invigorating Purim party. Co-creator Jenny Romaine took some time to share more about this amazing spectacle – happening this year on March 5th and 7th at the East Midwood Jewish Center. (There is also an all-ages carnival on Sunday, March 8 at Union Temple).
What was the inspiration behind the Purimshpil, and when did it first start?
Purim is a favorite Jewish holiday for feminists, young people, queers, and party animals of all stripes. The holiday calls for noisemaking, rule breaking, binary blurring and an end to business as usual. All of those elements come together in a traditional folk play called a Purimshpil.
Since 2002, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice has sponsored a radical Purimshpil project founded by Adrienne Cooper and myself in partnership with the Workmen’s Circle
and the Great Small Works theater collective. For the past few years, the Aftselokhis Spectacle Committee has worked with JFREJ and a long list of artists and social justice organizations to produce Purim spectacles that bring together hundreds of revelers for a wild time. The Purimshpil offers a powerful example of what can happen when we use our cultural abundance in our political organizing. The shows have enlivened, enlightened, confused, and inspired JFREJ members, comrades, and friends from 2002’s Giant Puppet Purim Ball Against the Death Penalty to 2013’s I See What You’re Doing: Purim, Puppets, Politsey.
What is is like to create the Purimshpil?
The Shpil is collectively devised through a rigorous but open four month process. It includes multi-generational singing and music sessions, political education, dance, puppetry, and art builds. What is created is a massive work of art performed by 70 people. Working together to create these wild performances, singing together, rehearsing and building sets together, and then dancing and laughing together – it’s the kind of relationship-building you just can’t get in a meeting, or even at a demonstration. So many people keep coming back to participate in Purim because it’s a rare time when we get to see our political partners as multi-dimensional people, coming from cultural strength and resourcefulness. It builds our power, to see ourselves and each other in that light.
We believe that accessing and participating in that community is a necessity, not a luxury. For all of our meetings, builds, rehearsals, and performances, we provide food, childcare, wheelchair access, and Metrocards to those who are part of the events’ creation. This year we have created additional paid work specifically for artists of color, as well as engaging more youth in the project. We have set these priorities because it is vital to growing and reflecting our community, to our political development and to our cultural work.
What is on tap for this year’s Purimshpil?
This year’s show is called Your Roots are Showing: An Underground Purim Botanical! It will focus on the stress reactions we and our neighbors in New York City are experiencing due to the loss of all or some of the emotional and material ecosystems that make our survival possible. This process has been identified as “Root Shock” by public health researcher Dr. Mindy Fullilove. Fullilove learned about root shock from people who had been displaced by urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s. She adapted the concept from a gardening term describing what happens to plants when they are moved, to reflect on what occurs in neighborhoods after development-driven displacement.
We see Root Shock in our own communities today, in gentrification and militarized policing. Also, a shortage of care for our elders, people in wheelchairs who can’t get into buildings, undocumented workers subject to exploitation by employers, and the institutional and familial hostility that drives trans and queer folk to homelessness. Our endeavors are based on the assumption that deep culture shifts are necessary to change power relations. To create new dynamics, we have to know ourselves and each other, to let go of old ideas to find new ones. Our partners in this work are organizers, artists, and scholars in our community who have devoted close attention to aspects of Root Shock including: Dr. Mindy Fullilove, Michael Manswell from something positive dance and mask company, Imani Henry from Equality in Flatbush, JFREJ, Damayan Migrant Workers Association, the hip hop artist Danny Sanchez, and many more.
Join the party! Find all the details about attending this year’s Purimshpil on the Facebook event page.