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The Circus, Kosher for Passover

On Thursday, lions and tigers performed alongside the Yeshiva Boys Choir for 20,000 Jews at the Barclays Center

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(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photo Bjørn Giesenbauer/Flickr)
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Shalom! Ma Nishma? Welcome to the Barclays Center.” That’s how a courteous usher greeted me yesterday at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus—a sign of what was to come over the next four and a half hours. Thanks to the Yeshiva Birchas Shmuel, a special-education school located in Midwood, Brooklyn, 20,000 giddy Jews, almost all Orthodox, got to enjoy the “Greatest Show on Earth!”—kosher style. Clowns, animals, dancers, Uncle Moishy, and the Yeshiva Boys Choir put on a high-energy spectacle, which brought two unlikely themes, Judaism and carnies, under the same roof.

“This is our first time to the Ringling and Yeshiva circus. We haven’t had many opportunities to come before!” said Jaylee Stein, an Orthodox mother from Brooklyn, who brought her young son to the show.

The pairing is the brainchild of Rabbi Raphael Wallerstein, the principal at the Yeshiva Birchas Shmuel, who first contacted Ringling producer Nicole Feld at the beginning of the millennium in hopes of merging the two entities. What was at first met with hesitation from Feld transformed into a circus fused with Passover spirit and halachic accommodations at Madison Square Garden in March 2004. Nine years later, they decided to bring it back, this time in Brooklyn.

The circus. (Jillian Scheinfeld)

“Ringling asked us what must be done, and we went over the entire script together so the show would be nice for the whole community. Today’s entertainment is not clean, so we wanted to have some clean entertainment for our children,” said Rabbi Wallerstein.

The most significant accommodation of all was removing every female performer from the show, with the exception of the lady elephants. Feld held rehearsals to find more men for the show and cooperated with Wallerstein to eliminate certain phrases that may have been controversial. A big part of the classic Ringling Brothers circus includes a rivalry between boys and girls, which was completely altered for Thursday’s show. Otherwise, Ringling was able to present most acts in their entirety, with the addition of the Yeshiva Boys Choir and the crowd’s favorite, Uncle Moishy.

“It’s an experience the Jewish Orthodox community couldn’t ordinarily have, and for us to provide them with a place to make family memories is an honor and a privilege,” said Feld.

This isn’t the only time Ringling has agreed to alter its show to accommodate special groups: They provide a tactile circus experience for the blind community and are currently creating a show in Mexico that will be fully translated to Spanish.

Barclays, which opened seven months ago, made headlines in February when it offered separate gender seating for a Itzhak Perlman concert. But the circus took Jewish accommodations to the next level for the yeshiva circus. The Barclays Center’s food stands had never been shut down for a show—until yesterday. In observance with Pesach, all patrons were told to bring their own lunch and snacks. Almost every audience member toted plastic bags and lunch boxes filled with matzah, fruit, and veggies for their families to enjoy throughout the performance.

When asked what was in her family’s lunch box, Micah Silber, a mother of six, told me: “Lots of matzah!” Passover was definitely in the air, as many overheard conversations began and ended with “Good Yontif.”

The show included silly clown skits, standing tigers hopping like rabbits, and tight-rope dancers who gracefully jumped roped and bicycled while perched on a tiny string in the air. Strobe lights and smoke highlighted the performance, as a “men’s basketball team” on unicycles shot hoops and made purposefully clumsy mistakes, to get the audience riled up.

Some lucky members of the audience were chosen to sit in tea-cup like saucers on the main floor while they got to witness acrobats seemingly floating in the sky and a parade of elephants hooked nose to tail as they trotted throughout the room. Gymnasts did flip upon flip and male dancers clapped to American Club friendly instrumentals of “Party Rock Anthem,” by LMFAO and “Let’s Go,” by Calvin Harris.

Although the Yeshiva Boys Choir put on a great performance, there was no doubt that Uncle Moishy stole the audience’s heart. When the YBC asked the audience to clap along, most kids could hardly raise their hands together. When Uncle Moishy asked for a clap-a-long, children were standing in the chairs, applauding in unison along to “Dayenu.”


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Animal Cruelty is not “clean.” Animal Cruelty is not educational and it’s not entertaining.

    ooffa says:

    There is no cruelty the Ringling animals are among the best cared for and well treated animals on the planet.

        ooffa says:

        Yes really. so tired of this AR propaganda

          And I’m tired of stupid humans not caring about the voiceless. Do you hate animals so much that you would promote slavery and horrible cruelty? I feel sorry for you if you have such a hard heart that you can’t see the oppression. I sincerely hope you don’t have children, because they are voiceless too. Would you have your child turned into a slave?

          ooffa says:

          Nah. you’re way off base. I’m going to go with rational thought on this one. Makes no sense to abuse the animals. You’re have a great passion. You should direct it towards an actual cause.

          I truly feel sorry for you. The animals only perform because of the feared retribution. I have seen this with my own eyes. What is non-rational about that? I not only experience things myself, I also read and make myself aware and educated on the issue. I’m sorry that you’ve chosen to hate the animals so much. I guess you haven’t seen what I’ve seen. You might feel differently if you did. I hope you take it upon yourself to find out more and not just be a troll for the circus industry.

          ooffa says:

          Nope, not buying it, and certainly not buying your “so called” experience. If you had experienced the relationship between the animals and their caretakers a rational person could not draw the conclusion you have, Thats what is non-rational about that. I’m glad I coud answer that question for you. I am here to help and educate you.

          Oh, I see. You must work for the circus. That explains it all. How much do they pay you to troll the sites and comment?

          ooffa says:

          No I don’t work for the Circus. I am just trying to enlighten the AR’s. Do you work for PETA or the ASPCA are you paid to troll around the internet and place propaganda in the comment sections of family entertainment articles. See that sounds like a foolish question doesn’t it? Well your question sounded silly also.

Robert Berkman says:

I agree with Cora: why the modern “circus” even needs animal acts is beyond me. I am also disgruntled that Ratner used public money to build something which is so clearly going to put money in his pocket: every man, woman and child in Brooklyn contributed almost $200 of their tax money to erect this thing; when will we get some of that money back?

    ooffa says:

    I know when I was there to see the show I stayed in a hotel I ate at local restaurants. I bought things at the drug store and the sporting goods store and from a street vendor. I also paid hotel taxes. All money that the community would not have gotten had the Barclays center had not been there. I have visited NY hundreds of time and never went to Brooklyn. I didn’t want to go this time either but the event was at the Barclays not the Garden. In addition we have planned another trip for next month to see another event. I really enjoyed Brooklyn. I just needed a reason to go. The arena is serving it’s purpose of bringing new tourists and money to the area.

A picture speaks a thousand words a video
leaves little doubt about how Ringling treats their female elephants behind the

    ooffa says:

    Thats old doctored video. The community can all see the animals are well treated and well cared for. To all reading this post CJ Ellie is always screaming about animal rights but she won’t go to a show to see the expert care the Ringling animals get, She just keeps trotting out the same old propaganda instead of giving the circus the kudos for the great job they are doing,.

      It is impossible to see “expert care” because it doesn’t exist at Ringworm. Elephants have to endure hours in small train cars or other small traveling trucks, then they’re chained in place for more hours, only to perform for a few moments with the threat of the bullhook and a beating. I’ve witnessed this with my own eyes at circuses recently, and I’m always appalled that people are so careless. Ringworm is a slave group, and people attending the slave shows should be ashamed.

        ooffa says:

        WOW, that post is a full portion of crazy. You might actually convince some people to believe the AR propaganda if you would tone it down a bit. (Don’t be mad, I’m just trying to help you.)

          I’m not mad. I’m enraged that elephants are treated so poorly by an industry that only cares how much money they can make off the cruelty of animals. Go troll somewhere else why I fight for the animal’s rights to live a healthy life away from abuse.

          ooffa says:


. Rabbi Wallerstein should be encouraging people to make family memories that don’t involve such cruelty.

So, the amazing female aerialists and gymnasts are white-washed out of the show? Ugh.

I would hope the Jewish community would think better next time and not allow their children to witness the cruelty and abuse of the animals in a circus. Cirque du Soleil would be so much more appropriate and more exciting! Ringling abuses elephants!

    ooffa says:

    You’re being silly of course there is no abuse. Would it make sense to abuse the stars of your show,

      The videos and first hand viewing of the abuse doesn’t lie. Ringling does this behind the scenes. They’re not going to show you, silly person! Do your research. Check out or just google circus elephant abuse. Ringling was fined the largest fine in circus industry for this! They spin the abuse and cruelty into a story of “conservation” and “education”. It’s no better than slavery for the animals! Get real, grow up, and learn!

        ooffa says:

        They also won the largest reperation award from the ASPCA. Please stop falling for the AR propaganda machine.

          Please grow up, gather some compassion, and see the truth. Elephants in circuses and many zoos are slaves… I will fight for their freedom as long as I live.

          ooffa says:

          I wish you a long happy life. Hopefully one in which you will realize that there is no abuse and that the animals are treated with love, care and compassion.

          I’ve seen too much behind the scenes, when the audience has gone home, to believe that the elephants are treated with love and compassion. The “trainers” (I call them abusers) think they love, but if they did, they would want that elephant to live comfortably as an elephant should, not pushed and stabbed constantly to perform unnatural tricks.

          ooffa says:

          I don’t believe you have seen behind the scenes. If you have then a rational person could not possibly have drawn the conclusions that you have.

          ooffa says:

          I have proven it. As I said a rational person would find it impossible to come to the conclusions you have. I assumed you were rational. I’m sure you would agree that you are rational. Therefore either you have not been “behind the scenes” or you are not in rational frame of mind. Don’t misunderstand, I find your enthusiam for the AR cause quite remarkable, as well as your belief that there is an actual issue with the treatment the animals are getting. I just wish you could channel that vitriol towards a situation that actually exists.

          And for your information, I’m proud to fight for the animals. They are voiceless, and I am one of many who choose to fight for them. I am an animal rights supporter, and you have chosen to be an animal hater. Sorry for you. You’re missing out on some wonderful experiences. Perhaps you were hired by Ringworm to spout off your nonsense?

          ooffa says:

          Not shoosing to be an AR supporter does not make one an animal hater. It makes one rational and clear thinking. I have chosen that path.

      please educate yourself.

    Anna Olswanger says:

    I agree. Born Free has done extensive research into cruelty to animals in circuses:

Never mind cruelty to animals, what about cruelty to the female performers. Were women and children separated from the male observers or is that something only done in synagogues?

I congratulate the female elephant lobby for being strong enough to ensure their sisters were represented where other female performers were banned.

ooffa says:

Love the elephants glad that the circus was able to make accommodations so that you could see these magnificently well cared for animals.

Bryan Huie says:

Judaism is a Circus!

All Jews are Clowns!

They think God loves them, but he has shit on them for thousands of years!

tza’ar ba’alei chayim. nothing kosher about this circus.

    ooffa says:

    Sure there is.

      apparently you are unfamiliar with the training practices used to get circus animals to perform unnatural acts. it most certainly violates the torah precept of cruelty towards animals.

        ooffa says:

        I am unfamiliar with the what the Torah says about the issue. Truth is by the time the Rabii’s are done debating what it says half will agree and half won’t. I am certainly familiar with the training of animals. That is why I can state as a fact that there is no abuse or harmful practices used with the elephants. Here’s the deal. The Rabbi put out a tremendous effort to organize a fun family day and pissants and grumps like you would rather bitch about it then join in. Try getting up from your desk, there is a whole world of enjoyment out there for you. We will welcome you with open arms, come join us.

I am amazed that so few comments overlook the way women performers were so easily tossed to the side. Lest someone argue that this is the equivalent of lowering the decibel/lighting to accomodate sensory-affected attendees, it’s not even close. In the former, no single performer was singled out; his/her performance had to be modified. It is totally different when an entire gender is removed from view.

    Barry Scheinfeld says:

    heard a learned Rabbi in Shul one day talk about the women who wanted to say prayers @ The Wall. He acknowledged political correctness , he supported equality for women , he pointed out that there are prayers only a woman can say when she goes for a mikvah ritual that a man even if he wanted to say is not permitted and he wondered how many of the woman @ The controversy @ The Wall said these prayers . It is all about spirituality and belief , as Ben Sidran sings”In The beginning , Man created G-d so he would not be alone…..lost without hope,….and G-d became …..that hope for man,,,and hope became… the re-ason to believe that g-d created man as a part of the plan ….that there was a reason behind all this trouble in mind,,now billions believe, believe with their hearts… if they hold out their hand ..G-d will appear….. so they will not be alone…. lost without hope ..only to find …they were never alone..only lost in the family of man, and that was the plan all along..” L’Chiam!

i too am guilty of feeding the troll. ignore ooffa and it will die of starvation. at least i am not violating a torah precept– cruelty to trolls.

    ooffa says:

    Showing you that your cause is baseless does not make me a troll. It makes me your educator, I accept the job willingly,

    ooffa says:

    Showing you that your cause is baseless does not make me a troll. It makes me your educator, I accept the job willingly,

phoebes says:

I sure hope the displaced women performers were paid for not working.

Alan Weberman says:

lechem and circuses


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The Circus, Kosher for Passover

On Thursday, lions and tigers performed alongside the Yeshiva Boys Choir for 20,000 Jews at the Barclays Center

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