B. Shira Levine
Navigating new wilderness

Behind the spiel

"HEY, why'd you stop the movie???"

I’m on record giving Purim a monocle emoji…it’s mostly Megillah Chapter 9 I don’t love (I’m not even great with hanging Haman or any form of capital punishment really!), but I also bristle at the concept of forced happiness, because if improperly messaged it can translate into toxic positivity. I tend to dread Purim spiels, which sometimes incorporate questionable pop culture references, often aren’t funny, inevitably land as glib about vigilante violence, and are prone to tone-deaf analogies. The other thing about Purim is that you are supposed to put together baskets of food for people, and dress up in costume, both of which require a skill set and degree of executive function that I lack, and while I always try to frantically figure out what all the fundraisers are that I need to be donating to, I often miss them, don’t bake, don’t donate enough, wear a half-baked costume, and end up feeling useless. Which, of course, then reminds me that I am not supposed to feel useless, I am supposed to feel grateful and happy. Which then makes me feel even more useless.

This year, I might actually get to that super-joy, thanks to a friend’s off-the-cuff suggestion in early February to do a Purim spiel to “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from Encanto (knowing that my musical self arranges these Jewish covers regularly, though ironically never for Purim).

I am a fan of the song and a huge fan of Lin-Manuel, and I immediately recognized that “We Don’t Talk About Haman” is such an obvious, BRILLIANT, and fitting idea that my friend wouldn’t be the only one to come up with it, and if I wrote one, there would be other versions out there too. I floated it to my husband (who is also my bandmate, better known as Mr. Michael, the music teacher at Atlanta Jewish Academy) to gauge his reaction, which was an appropriate level of “oh yeah that’d be a cool one” but neither of us jumped up to make it happen. The notion of being the author of one version of multiple competing parody lyrics making the same joke to the same original song is uniquely frustrating in a way I cannot quite explain. I was quite motivated to avoid this.

Then one night at the dinner table, Michael was discussing his music classes, and somehow it came up that all the AJA students love Encanto and know the music. I was like, ok, really? Everybody knows this song? So you could use it in your class? And we have a gig booked at the Jewish Life Festival in like 2.5 weeks and no Purim material? Scales tipped enough for me to run into my office (which is right next to the kitchen) and hyperfocus on Encanto lyrics for 45 minutes. I solicited husband, friend, and kid feedback, and reception was positive (my kids, 6 and 8, have been rather defiant about never accidentally admitting that their parents are anything but lame).
Critically, the lyrics managed to inspire the aforementioned Mr. Michael, who became excited enough to put in some modicum of extra work to get it ready for the Jewish Life Festival, and possibly do a video. He is a professional – I have zero video editing skills or music production skills, and only amateur vocal / instrumental skills – so this was the turning point for our endeavor. Then came the inevitable period of marital discord – you know, age-old husband-wife disputes such as “STOP WASTING TIME NITPICKING MY PERFECTLY GOOD LYRICS” and “YOUR CARTOON AVATAR LOOKS FINE, SHUT UP” and “THE WORDLE THING IS GENIUS BUT THAT OTHER JOKE IS OFFENSIVE TAKE IT OUT.” The Jewish Life Festival performance went well enough that audience members urged us “you must get a video up this year! next year will be too late!”
And thanks to my amazing husband (and his students) we did!

We may not have been first to put one up on youtube (a shul in Beverly Hills did one), and as expected, the Maccabeats’ Encanto medley quickly eclipsed ours when it was put up last night. But we are thrilled that people like our take, and super grateful to all our friends who have enthusiastically shared it. I’m psyched to perform it with the Aabsolute Shabbat band at the Megillah reading Wednesday night.

And hey – maybe this little exercise gave me the Purim happiness breakthrough I’ve always wanted. Chag Purim Sameach!
About the Author
B. Shira Levine writes about Jewish spirituality and observance, parenting, intersectionality, and the U.S. and Atlanta Jewish communities. Views are her own and not those of her employer, synagogues, or any other organization.
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