Meet Judaism’s hottest new comedy improv act, the Bible Players. The Bible Players consists of Philadelphia natives and longtime friends Andrew Davies, 29, and Aaron Friedman, 31, who are currently based in New York City, where they have spent the past decade honing their comedy and theater skills.
The Bible Players began officially performing in January 2011, but the foundation for Bible Players was laid a few summers before when Andrew and Aaron were both staffing Ramah Nayack summer camp as sports counselors in New York. Limited to indoor games during some rainy weather, the pair began running some comedy improvisational games that incorporated Jewish values, and was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response from campers and staff alike. In a changing climate where enrollment in Jewish education is on a downward trend and modern pop culture exerts constitute an increasingly powerful influence on kids, Andrew and Aaron realized they had a mission to take on - and the Bible Players was formed.
“Aaron and I are doing this show because we believe we have something BIG to contribute to the Jewish Community,” Andrew says. “We want to make Torah Fun! We want kids to WANT to go to Hebrew School. We think that if these stories are engaging and dynamic, kids will feel connected to this heritage.”
The Bible Players is a show that is not only scripted to entertain crowds, but to teach communities important Jewish values from the Bible that the duo believe are extremely relevant to today’s society.
“With comedy, games and theater we try to break people’s expectations of what Torah is,” Andrew explains. “We want to engage with the group to learn the values of building a kehila (community), along with other values, while revisiting biblical stories in a new way.”
Well aware of the challenges facing today’s kids, Andrew says: “if they can internalize the idea that being kind to each other, being a mensch to each other all the time is the most important thing, everything else will come. And if they keep that in mind whenever they are studying Torah, or reading, or watching movies, or listening to rap, I think that it is going to help.”
Aaron agrees: “We want to teach kids that the Torah can be fun, it doesn’t have to be boring and quiet and… boring. We want them to know that they can make these stories their own. It’s a living, breathing thing.”
Andrew and Aaron have performed for schools, camps and synagogues from every denomination in Judaism, and one of the discoveries they have made is the ability for comedy and fun to grab peoples’ attention no matter what their background.
As Aaron says, “we have written the show to appeal to everyone regardless of background and regardless of education and Hebrew knowledge.”
“We always translate Hebrew phrases and put them in terms that kids can understand, even if they’ve never heard of Jewish concepts like ‘shalom bayit’ (domestic harmony) before.”
Dominating their shows is the concept of being a mensch, a value that Andrew says they try to reinforce every three or four minutes throughout each performance.
In one sketch, Aaron dramatically behaves as though Andrew has called him a bad word, when he has in fact called him a mensch, until Andrew patiently explains the word’s meaning and adds that the word is Yiddish. In a rush of excitement, Aaron gushes that he knows plenty of Yiddish words like, “dreidel, kugel, google and kindle.”
All jokes aside, The Bible Players are more than just a comedy act, and they encourage their audiences to partake in a Tzedaka (charity) project after every show. Any proceeds raised go to the ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem, Israel’s only pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation facility. The Bible Players have raised over 1,000 dollars so far, and they are hoping to visit the hospital in the near future and give an exclusive performance.
The majority of the Bible Players’ gigs have come from word of mouth and positive reviews. This summer, Aaron and Andrew hit the road for a grueling road trip hopping from one Jewish summer camp to another, as they tried to fit in as many shows as the summer would allow. Though the travel and constant performances have led to a demanding schedule, neither have any regrets.
Aaron enjoys the rock star appreciation of ‘Jewish Beatles’ proportion shown from their fans after the show, though he admits that the kids usually forget their names and simply address him and Andrew as ‘the blue guy’ or ‘the red guy’ (referring to their uniforms worn during performances). Andrew quips that that’s how they should sign autographs.
On a deeper level, The Bible Players understand that they have an important lesson to share and the most rewarding part of the show for both of them is the lasting impact that they are making on their audiences.
“The best part is when they start singing some of our songs, and teachers email us afterwards, even weeks afterwards saying ‘we played the game you guys taught them and they had such a great time’; that’s really rewarding to see that it has a lasting power,” Aaron says.
Andrew adds, “Aaron and I feel that whatever you believe about these Biblical stories, they are part of our shared tradition and are worth exploring. We teach being kind, caring, respectful, and a mensch through Biblical stories. That's something that everyone agrees is worthwhile.”
Both Aaron and Andrew appreciate the difficult situation facing the future of the Jewish community in America.
Aaron pragmatically says, “we’re living in a changing world where intermarriage is more and more popular. So we tend to focus on the mitzvot based on ‘bein adam lchavero’ (between a man and his friends) and the more human stories of the Torah so that everyone can relate to them no matter whether you are a Jewish, Christian, an atheist or diabetic.”
As someone raised in an interfaith family himself, Andrew says he understands the unique dynamics facing Jews living in America. “I think that in America, the blessing and the curse is that there are a million options. The beautiful thing about America and the Jewish community is that we can recognize differences and not see those differences as a reason why things won’t work, but see them as opportunities for a new special kind of community.”
Ultimately, The Bible Players believe that their show can break boundaries and bring people together entertaining and educating simultaneously.
“We’re story tellers,” Andrew says. “We’re telling the story that’s been told for thousands of years but we’re telling it in such a new and exciting way that we feel that everyone is going to want to be a part of that community.”
On a lighter side, their show is just plain ol’ fun. Equipped with raps and other modern allusions, The Bible Players bring the hip back into Judaism.
I asked them to tell me a joke on the spot.
“What’s the difference between Israelis and Israelites?” Aaron asks me.
“Not sure,” I answer.
“About 50 calories,” Andrew dead pans.
For more information about The Bible Players, or to book a gig, visit their homepage at www.TheBiblePlayers.com. You can also find them on their Facebook page The Bible Players.