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Roosevelt Island Jewish Congregation Presented Queen Esther’s Gambit for Purim 5781/2021


By Janet Falk

Purim, a joyous and comedic holiday celebration, filled with fun and parody based on the Biblical story of Esther, was celebrated online by Rabbi Joel Shaiman and the Roosevelt Island Jewish Congregation (RIJC) on Thursday night, February 25, with a full evening of activities for all ages.

The evening began with a cooking demonstration of hamantaschen, the traditional triangular-shaped fruit-filled cookie, led by the Rabbi’s wife, Harriet Shaiman. There was a general Meet and Greet session, followed by a musical costume parade that spotlighted attendees in their individual Zoom boxes 

Rabbi Joel Shaiman, dressed as Dr. Anthony Fauci, first engaged the participants in a Purim Palooza, incorporating very current events with humor about Brooklyn, Saturday Night Live, politics and more. He then led the worship service.

The service featured the reading of the megillah or traditional scroll, which recounts the story of the holiday, marking the survival of the Jewish people at a time of a threatened massacre. Assisted by Gad Levanon, Uri Shusterman, Ofra Peled, and Rabbi Joel’s son Benjamin, the reading was interrupted by children and adults wielding a variety of noisemakers, to blot out the recitation of the name of the man who purportedly attempted to destroy the Jews. Susan Berk-Seligson, Charlie Schwartz, and the mother/son duo of Ofra and Tsoni Peled sang traditional and parody songs.

The service alternated with scenes from a Purimschpiel, or play based on this narrative. Written and directed by Mickey Rindler and Janet Falk, Queen Esther’s Gambit presented the familiar tale of the near-decimation of the Jews and their salvation by a wily Queen Esther, in a chess-themed drama based on the recent Netflix production The Queen’s Gambit. The cast featured King Magnusuerus (Charlie Schwartz), QHaman (Mickey Rindler), Henchman/Guard (Tsoni Peled) and Announcer (Janet Falk). It also included several children from the Island community. The pre-recorded performance was brilliantly edited by Evan Rindler. 

The Purimschpiel’s broad humor and political-themed puns, plus references to Roosevelt Island affairs, was acclaimed by members of the RIJC. It was incredibly up to date.

For more information about the Roosevelt Island Jewish Congregation, which is the oldest, longest-serving active egalitarian congregation on the Island, please visit or call 212-688-0003. We continue to meet virtually via Zoom. The next Shabbat worship service is Friday, March 5 at 6:00 pm. The Adult Learning series, a discussion of chapters of the book, A Bride for One Night, led by Rabbi Joel Shaiman, will continue on Tuesday, March 2 at 7:30 pm. Details for all these activities, and more, are posted at

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