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Emanuel Synagogue to stage original play by Ben Engel

The Emanuel Players of The Emanuel Synagogue of West Hartford will return to the stage Sunday, Nov. 7, with a staged reading of Ben Engel’s latest play, “Havdalah,” directed by Adrian A. Durlester.

The play focuses on the prominent Mendelssohn family to examine the pressures, conflicts and opportunities Jews faced when they encountered modern life in 19th century Berlin.

“Jews won more freedom as they emerged into the modern era, but handled it in different ways,” Engel says.  “Some sought to change the religion. Others converted. Still others remained traditional. This set brother against brother, partner against partner, Orthodox versus Reform. You see all this in the Mendelssohns and their friends. But also, the pressures they faced are mirrored by challenges we face today.”

Leading the cast is Rabbi Steve Chatinover as Joseph Mendelssohn; Pat Kazakoff as his wife Hinni; Mike Isko as Felix Mendelssohn; Mel Simon as the violinist Ferdinand David. The cast also includes Elizabeth Ehrlich, Esther Aronson, Fred Spaeth, Eric Hoffman, Moshe Pinchover, Mark Wolfberg, Lesley Weiner, Rabbi David Small. Carolyn Topol will serve as narrator.  

Part of the story involves creation of the great Violin Concerto in E Minor by Felix Mendelssohn. The play suggests that the Jewish-born composer, who was converted to Lutheranism by his father at age seven, was conflicted as an adult about his religion, and that the conflict surfaced during composition of the concerto. While the play is speculative, Engel notes that overall it is based on historical events. Engel inserted snippets from the Violin Concerto, and some of the composer’s short piano works, into the play.

In advance of the production, Yale Professor of History David Sorkin will deliver a lecture on the Jewish encounter with modern life on Oct. 10, and Cantor Daniella Risman will headline a concert featuring the music of Felix Mendelssohn on Oct. 20. See page 19 for details.

Tickets to “Havdalah” are $18 and $25.  

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