Hello Yellow Brick Road

This weekend is the Temple Beth Avodah performance of Wizard of Oz. No, it’s not in Hebrew. No, we’re not doing it because L. Frank Baum was Jewish (he wasn’t).

We’re performing a musical because it’s a tradition that goes back decades. We continue to embrace that tradition because it pulls together congregants of different generations, all devoted to a lofty and challenging goal: to entertain from the stage. Anyone who’s ever been part of a TBA show – acting onstage, handling props, sewing costumes, wrangling little kids, helping with lights or painting sets, or doing makeup – anyone who’s had the honor will tell you that the experience changed their lives.

No one has gone on to an acting career after performing at TBA (though Amy Kaufman, a Dorothy from our prior Oz performance, is a well-established entertainment writer for the LA Times). But everyone will tell you about how many friends they made. They will describe how being cast or crew members for a temple play connected them to a profound sense of community and common cause. Whenever they walk into the temple, they will feel like they own the place; it’s their temple in a new and intimate way.

It’s been especially pleasing to perform Wizard of Oz. The story is beautiful and very evocative. In many ways, it explicates an archetypal experience of maturation and change through a young woman’s search for her true identity. Dorothy lives on a farm with elderly relatives. Her parents are nowhere to be found or mentioned. She has no friends other than her dog. Three hired hands on the Gale homestead serve as her protectors, less like friends and more like siblings. She seems lonely and needs more attention than she can get.

We feel her yearning and sadness, portrayed so empathically by our female lead, Sarah Wanger. She seeks a place of wholeness, where there are no troubles or angst, somewhere over the rainbow.

But over the rainbow is not a place of peace. In fact, far from it! There are witches and hostile trees and flying monkeys and scary castles; so much for troubles melting like lemon drops… It’s not until the end of her adventure that Dorothy discovers what she knew all along but wasn’t mature enough to understand: there’s no place like home. She has to take the hero’s journey to come out the other side, renewed. It’s still the same Kansas when she wakes up, but she’s not the same Dorothy.

A simple temple play brings us all on a well-trod path of drama, music, and laughter. And at the same time, it challenges us to take the complex journey of the hero, of departure, initiation, and return. How special it is to have loved ones and friends accompany us on the yellow brick road.

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