Epstein play is curtain call for drama club director


For the Torah MiTzion Kollel St. Louis and H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy Drama Club, the group’s fourth annual play proved to be a bittersweet production — with the club reaching new dramatic heights, but it was the farewell performance for one of the key drama club faculty.

The Epstein Drama Club performed Brothers in Arms, a play about three friends serving in the Palmach, the underground army of Israel during the British Mandate.

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Moving through basic training, combat, and eventually a comrade’s death, the play presented some weighty subject matter for the sixth- through eighth-grade actors, something from which the drama club has not shied away (last year’s play, The Wave, looked at Holocaust education in the context of the genocide in Darfur).

This year’s solemn play, written and directed by Rabbi Uria Teperberg, of Torah MiTzion Kollel, represents a culmination for Teperberg and the drama club.

Over the past four years, Teperberg has been a driving force for the club, which has grown in popularity and in the depth of its productions. However, Teperberg and his family will be returning home to Israel, after the completion of his family’s four years as shlichim for Torah MiTzion Kollel.

“Uria has been such a key factor in our drama club’s success,” said Suzanne Sundy, an Epstein volunteer who produced Brothers in Arms, and translated Teperberg’s script from Hebrew to English.

“He’s been the creative genius that has inspired our students,” she said. “Uria comes with a wealth of dramatic background, and a wonderful, creative vision that has gotten our students so excited about performing and taking part in our plays.”

Sundy said that Brothers in Arms proved to be the club’s most ambitious project yet.

Sundy and the drama club, an extracurricular group at Epstein, has worked on the play since September, and has held intensive rehearsals after school for the past couple of months. This year and last, the high level of student interest has led Sundy and Teperberg to form two full casts, which each performed the play.

“We had two dozen students this year participate, and we really wanted all of our students to be able to actively participate,” Sundy said.

However, Sundy noted that the play’s performance was only one part of the drama club’s aim.

“With the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel this year, we knew we wanted to focus on Israel,” Sundy said. “In Brothers in Arms we found a way to have our students learn about Israel’s history, and about the people who worked so hard to establish the state.”

“By taking on these roles, the students also learned about what it’s like to be a soldier, and it helped them understand the commitment of the people who helped found the State of Israel,” she said.

Along with the play, students were educated about Israel’s history, and discussed contemporary topics relevant to Israel today, including the city of Sderot, where residents have had to deal with barrages of kassam missiles from the Gaza Strip.

In fact, proceeds from the play’s four performances at Shaare Zedek Synagogue were donated to help Sderot.

Students said Teperberg has been a wonderful teacher and drama club director.

“He’s strict, but he really teaches you a lot,” said Leib Smason, who is entering the eighth grade at Epstein in the fall. “He knows so much about acting and drama. You really know you can trust him.”

For Adam Goldmeier, who will be a seventh grader in the fall, he said Teperberg’s departure will be “really sad.”

“It’s been really fun and I feel like we’ve really accomplished something,” he said.

“I hope they will find someone to help keep it going,” Goldmeier said.

Sundy said Epstein is working very hard to make sure the drama program continues after this year, and plans to continue working on Epstein’s dramatic productions.

“Drama is such a powerful educational tool. Our students have learned so much not only about drama, but about working as a team,” she said. “Just like our soldiers in Brothers in Arms, they’ve also learned about the meaning of being committed to each other and to a common cause.”