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Play Premiere in Chester Marks a Synagogue’s Hundredth Anniversary

The play is about Jewish families that settled in rural areas like Connecticut.

A new play premieres this weekend as part of a gala event celebrating the hundredth anniversary of a synagogue in Chester, Connecticut called Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek.

The play is called “100 Years in 36 Minutes.” Its co-writer, Lary Bloom, came to the WNPR studios earlier this week to talk about it.

Bloom has written eight books. His columns have appeared in The New York Times and The Hartford Courant

I asked what drew him to playwriting, and how it differs from writing a book or newspaper column.  

LARY BLOOM: I’ve always written non-fiction books, and playwriting gives me a chance to invent characters and dialogue. More than that, playwriting is a collaborative thing. So I write words on a page, and some really good actor and director takes those words, and shows me stuff that I never even imagined.

WNPR’S DIANE ORSON: So let’s talk about this one. This play is called “100 Years in 36 Minutes.”

Right, and some people have asked me how long does it last!  I say: who was buried in Grant’s tomb, and what color is a red herring, and when did the war of 1812 start?

You wrote this to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of a synagogue in Chester, Connecticut.

Yes; it’s one that’s dear to my heart, because I have been a member for many, many years. There was a merger several years ago of two synagogues on both sides of the Connecticut River. Now we have the longest name in the history of Judaism: Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek.

We were thinking of ways to celebrate the hundredth anniversary. That's when the farming community in East Haddam and Moodus started their shul -- their synagogue, their congregation -- in 1915, as people were migrating from the very difficult circumstances in Eastern Europe.

This is about Jewish families that settled in rural areas like Connecticut. In your play, you sort of imagine the meeting between two generations of Jewish families: a family that was part of the creation of this synagogue, and then a contemporary family. Talk with me a little bit about that.

Well I had this notion of, “Well, what does it mean? What did these 100 years mean?” We as a community created this new building in 2001, it opened in 2001 in Chester, designed by the way by Sol LeWitt -- the artist, the only public building he ever designed. It was inspired by the old wooden synagogues of Eastern Europe, most of which don’t exist anymore.

When I think back hundreds and thousands of years, of what people did to get us where we are today, this is extraordinary stuff. And what is our responsibility in any institution, and particularly in religious institutions, to do our part to make it possible for the next generations to continue the good work that comes out of these places?

So it seemed to me that there was a play about values, a play about what’s really important in life.  This play really focuses around Friday night, the Sabbath, and the importance of the Sabbath. The people from 1915 get great satisfaction from that, and the people in 2015 have lost it altogether. So this clash of values -- it creates this opportunity for discussion.

It does ask a lot of an audience, you know, because last week, they just fasted 24 hours for Yom Kippur. Could they fast another 36 minutes during the play?! So we ask that no food be served. So we have to fast during that time. You know how it is -- it’s tough!

The play “100 Years in 36 Minutes,” premiers this weekend in Chester, Connecticut. It’s part of a gala event celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek synagogue. The event is open to the public. 

Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.

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