December has recently been filled with debates about public displays of Christmas symbols and the greetings “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”. But on December 25, 2006, a non-Christian group enriched Christmas Day with an activity that sidestepped controversy in a very friendly way.
For several years, Jews in the Ann Arbor area have looked forward to December 25 as a chance to gather together for some fun at the Michigan Theater. The excitement has included movies like The Wizard of Oz, Fiddler on the Roof and My Fair Lady, as well as costumes, sing-alongs, and food treats. For many visitors, the movie complements their observance of Hanukkah, which this year ended on December 23.
Non-Jews like myself have joined in for what has always been a friendly, happy occasion, thanks to the creative sponsorship of Temple Beth Emeth. The fun continued in 2006 with the 1971 comedy Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The movie was only one part of an eventful morning and afternoon that included stage and lobby activities before, during, and after the film.
Breakfast at the Michigan
When the doors opened for the 10:30 a.m. movie, patrons were met with a concession stand that included a delicious-looking spread of bagels and muffins. Concession stand workers wore colorful outfits and cut-out paper lollipops that looked straight out of the Willy Wonka movie.
In the auditorium, people from the temple greeted each other, families settled into their seats, and the whole atmosphere felt more neighborly than your average movie visit. Soon, Rabbi Robert D. Levy was on stage, dressed like one of the bad children in the movie, Mike Teevee. His outfit included a cowboy hat, vest, and chaps, and he shot a “politically incorrect” cap gun into the air.
After Rabbi Levi’s introduction, we sat back and enjoyed the first half of a modern classic that appeals to both children and adults. This movie (also shown this year at the Redford Theatre) works skillfully in different ways—as comedy, musical, satire, surreal fantasy, and morality play. The audience broke into applause when Charlie Bucket found his golden ticket and when Gene Wilder (as Willy Wonka) somersaulted to greet the five lucky ticket holders.
At about 11:30, the audience took a lunch intermission and enjoyed kosher hot dogs and rolls. The Grand Foyer, a flexible meeting area for different groups, became a lively lunchroom. People perched on the large staircases, enjoying the ornate decorations along with their hot dogs and potato chips.
After intermission, Rabbi Levy handed out raffle prizes to some more lucky ticket holders. Audience members, both young and old, received the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a Willy Wonka DVD, and “the premiere prize”, Willy Wonka candy bars.
The audience then settled in for the rest of the movie, with energetic applause for the departures of some of the greedy children, and for Charlie’s triumph at the end.
As the clock ticks down on 2006, here is my wish for a Happy and Blessed New Year for everyone involved with “Temple Beth Emeth at the Movies”.
Copyright © 2006 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.