| Standing Ovation |

Pesach, Matzah, and Cotton Candy


s a young child growing up on the West Side of Manhattan, there really wasn’t a lot to do on Chol Hamoed Pesach. There was no Great Adventures, no Uncle Moishy concerts, and who really cared about going to the auto show? Sometimes, if we were really lucky, Pesach came out during the run of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

About 15 years ago, I received a phone call from my old friend Rabbi Raphael Wallerstein, who I had known since growing up on the West Side. He was putting together a fundraiser for his yeshivah, and he wanted to book some entertainment. We arranged a show, the event was a success, and the following year, he called me again. Then in the middle of the conversation, he mentioned that he was in touch with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, but he realized that there would be no way that he would be able to come close to filling 20,000 seats in Madison Square Garden.

I asked him, “How many seats do you have to sell to break even?” He replied, “Approximately 6,000 seats.” I told him that in my estimation, if he did it on Chol Hamoed and made sure there would be all-male performers, he would sell more than 6,000 seats the same day the tickets went on sale.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “I’m not sure of anything,” I replied, “but if you don’t do the show, I will.” The next thing I knew, we were in Madison Square Garden, signing the contract and preparing for the show. Besides for the circus, we also added the beloved Avraham Fried, the amazing Dedi [Israeli singer Dedi Graucher] and everyone’s favorite uncle, Uncle Moishy.

Ten thousand seats went the first weekend that tickets were on sale. In fact, every single ticket, including the boxes and the suites, were sold: 20,000 seats in all.

As soon as I told Dedi about the performance, he said, “Ding, I’m coming in on an elephant!” And for the next two weeks, he called me every single day with a different elephant joke. “Ding, the people are gonna go crazy when I come out standing on top of the elephant!” (We weren’t so sure the elephants agreed with him.)

The day finally arrived and Dedi made sure to get there early so he could practice getting onto the elephant. We walked backstage, to the elephants’ “dressing rooms,” and all of a sudden, I see Dedi turning white and becoming quite nervous. “Ding, zeh me’od gadol! How am I supposed to get on top of that thing?!”

I replied, “Dedi, are you chickening out?” He absolutely did.

Showtime finally arrived, but everyone came early to watch the preshow, where people could actually interact with the talent…. And baruch Hashem, the show lived up to its Ringling Brothers title, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Avraham Fried was in top form, Dedi was terrific, and Uncle Moishy got the kids screaming.

It was a real kiddush Hashem too. The show was written up in the next day’s New York Times and lauded by many as the first kosher circus ever. The paper noted that there was even kosher l’Pesach cotton candy for sale.

For all those who missed that momentous event, it was recorded on DVD and is still a favorite in Judaica stores. And Ringling Brothers? They also remained in the Pesach spirit of avdus l’cheirus — they closed down, freeing all those enslaved elephants.

Chag kosher v’samei’ach!


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 703)

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