On Saturday, March 11, more than 1,100 people gathered in our sanctuary to celebrate Norman Roth and his thirtieth and final Purim spiel at Stephen Wise, Billy Joel — The Megillah Man.
“Most of you know that Billy Joel, for the last four years, has been appearing at Madison Square Garden, and every show has been a sold-out show,” Norman said as he introduced the spiel. “Tonight, at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, in the month of Adar, Billy Joel has a sold-out Purim spiel!”
The talented cast featured Hayley Wright as Queen Esther, Marc Bernstein as King Ahasuerus, Barrett Zinn Gross as Haman, Michael Wolf as Mordecai, Stephanie Golob as Vashti, and Robin Lyon as the wedding planner, with a spirited ensemble including the Junior Purimspielers, the youngest performers.
The standing-room-only audience included Stephen Wise members who have enjoyed Norman’s spiels for decades as well as Norman’s great-nieces and nephews, who travelled from as far as Colorado for the performance, and a reporter from NY1 who is developing a “New Yorker of the Week” profile of Norman for the March 17 broadcast.
Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, senior rabbi at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, presented Norman with many gifts, including an engraved grogger. “Norman, you’ve joined the ranks of the legendary rabbis and the legendary lay leaders who have led this congregation for 100 years,” Rabbi Hirsch said. “You have helped to make this congregation exceptionally great. You’re up there with the legends, Norman!”
“Laughter is sacred in Judaism. We need to continue to laugh — at ourselves, at the human predicament, at all those anti-Semites who hate Jews, and to laugh at how precarious human existence really is. Norman, you allowed us to reach the high levels of sanctity, perhaps the highest. You made us laugh for thirty years. What a glorious three decades.”