It sounds like a revival from the days of the Borscht Belt, but Elijah Dornstreich wants you to know that Seder the Musical is not your bubbe’s Passover meal.
“This really is different from all other seders,” Dornstreich insists.
He should know: Dornstreich, a vice president at Alliance Bernstein Global Wealth Management, is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Seder.
Seder the Musical is the third edition of the pre-Passover event designed, as Dornstreich put it, to take “bite-sized segments of different arts and pair them with a beautiful seder. It’s not religious but multicultural, a combination of the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and gastronomic.”
After appearing first at WHYY in 2012 and the Bellevue in 2013, this year’s Pesadichah pupu platter will be at the Gershman Y, which has been producing the event since its inception. The other co-founder was Warren Hoffman, who was Gershman’s senior director of programming for five years before becoming associate director of programming at the Center for Jewish Life and Learning at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia in January.
Dornstreich said he expects the event to draw the same crowds as the previous two years — people eager to meld Jewish tradition with performers — some Jewish, some not — like storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston, actors from the 11th Hour Theatre Company, singer/songwriter Chana Rothman and flutist Chana Datskovsky.
Among those most eager to see how Seder the Musical turns out is Rabbi Deborah Glanzberg-Krainin, who is serving as emcee of the event.
“I am always excited about an event that uses a Jewish frame for contemporary culture,” said Glanzberg-Krainin, assistant vice president for community and rabbinic engagement at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She added that she isn’t too worried about her role in the seder: “Being an emcee is what rabbis do in life anyway. I will be providing a larger context to understand the material.”
Glanzberg-Krainin does acknowledge, however, that there are a few aspects to the event that she hasn’t encountered before. “I don’t usually have Altar Boyz” — 11th Hour will be performing excerpts of its version of the long-running Off-Broadway hit at the seder — “as part of my regular practice. And I have never participated with tap dancers before.”
That would be Germaine Ingram, one of the premier tap dancers in the United States. Ingram, a former lawyer who studied with tap legend LaVaughn Robinson for years, will perform her work, “Can I Believe,” with frequent collaborator, violinist Diane Monroe.
The piece was originally created by Ingram for a Juneteenth celebration of the end of slavery at Johnson House, the landmark Underground Railroad stop in Germantown.
“I was thinking about how there was great jubilation upon news of the Emancipation Proclamation,” Ingram said about the days in June 1865 when the freed slaves around the country learned of their new status. “At the same time, I imagine that there were people who experienced significant doubt and anxiety — they never had the experience of freedom: ‘What would it be like to look where I want to look, to run, to dance, to do what I want, to call myself by my own name and not a slave name, to control my own body, to give or withhold my physicality as I choose?’
And, she said, performing her piece at the seder is a way of noting the parallels between what the end of the Civil War meant to former slaves and what the Exodus meant to the fleeing Israelites. “We keep seeing these same things recur over and over” throughout history, as one people after another is subjugated, she said.“That’s why I thought there was a real connection, not just between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, but because it raised appropriate questions for any people who have suffered severe constraints on their freedom and oppression of their humanity.”
Seder the Musical
March 30, 5-9 p.m.
The Gershman Y
Broad and Pine streets