Megillas Lester

“It’s the best Jewish movie I’ve ever seen, and it has no competition” — such was my daughter’s trenchant review of the awesome Megillas Lester. While that isn’t strictly true, of course (there have been children’s movies like “Agent Emes” around for a while, and I’m sure she has seen them), the claims that this movie is “raising the bar” on quality frum entertainment are, for once, no exaggeration at all.

I’m sure this was a major gamble. As much as Emes Productions (who provided financial backing) may claim to specialize in “low budget” films, the acting, animation and production costs were probably far above anything done for our community thus far. I hope it pays off financially, because the result is a very high quality product — keyn yirbu, our community will undoubtedly demand more on this level.

Chananya (CJ) Kramer of Kol Rom Multimedia has been a creative and comedic genius for a long time. When, as a camp counselor, he was assigned the job of waking campers each morning, he put together a brilliant series of mock radio interviews (with himself as all characters) to be played over the camp loudspeakers. And everyone woke up quickly, because they all wanted to listen!

Here he has written (and directed) a production with an intricate and creative plot, quick pace, and even a particularly catchy song (“Upside Down“) performed by several of the main characters. It is true family entertainment — little kids love the animation and visual effects, teenagers like the plot and music, and their parents enjoy the references to everything from Medrash to modern culture. King Achashveirosh (Yanky Schorr) has a riotously authentic Persian accent, there’s a particularly bad pun involving one of the reasons behind the mitzvos of Purim (which I won’t spoil for you), and who would have expected Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape to show up to play the part of Haman? [Adam Leventhal does an impression so uncanny, you’d be forgiven thinking it was Rickman himself.] The plot uses a gimmick first employed by the Wizard of Oz, 75 years ago, but we’ll forgive that — the rest of the film is completely modern and brilliantly original.

At the same time, it follows a rigorously authentic understanding of the Purim story based upon the Megillah, medrash, and even the archaeology of ancient Shushan. CJ even provided a video for those interested in learning what they made up, and what they drew from Chazal, our sages.

I tried to think about how well I would follow the film if I had no Jewish background… once in a while, if you don’t know the Hebrew words, you won’t know what they were saying, but that’s infrequent. It’s clearly targeted at the frum market, but I suspect everyone will enjoy the film, regardless.

As the first Jewish movie of its kind, Megillas Lester ranks at least 4 if not 5 stars — so it’s going to be a very tough act to follow. In fact, there are few people in our community who could pull this off — CJ, you’d better get writing! In the meantime, go see this film, buy it on DVD, download it… you’ll have a great time.

You may also like...

21 Responses

  1. SoMeHoW Frum says:

    I have not seen it, but will children who see it understand what is made up and what is reality?

    [Please watch the trailer. I think the question will answer itself. — YM]

  2. Gary says:

    CJ and his entire KolRom team put together a superlative production that IYH will have a positive impact on religiousJewry for many years to come. This new venue for well done entertainment without a preachy tone is hopefully just a beginning. With that acknowledgement, and without negating any appreciation for good humor, since Lester’s story line did bear some resemblance to Megilas Esther, despite the initial disclaimer, it should have referenced somewhere the main point of the entire saga. Namely, that the Jews became imperiled due to their missteps and indiscretions, and the salvation fortuitously fell into place solely because of their sincere repentance and urgent supplications for Divine mercy. Perhaps Mordechai could have discussed that with Lester during his cameo appearance. That inclusion would have pushed the rating to five stars instead of four.

  3. Daniel says:

    If you need an explanatory video to know what is made up, why would you call that “rigorously authentic”?

    [Here as well, watch the video and I think the question will answer itself. For the most part, the video discusses the sources for their choices throughout — but it also explains what they had to fill in because we do not have a source explaining the historical facts more clearly. In that instance, a choice is required, and does not digress from the authentic record. The most significant digression from the actual history appears to have been calling Bigsan’s co-conspirator Seresh rather than Teresh, because in the Megillah we see his name with a preceding Vav and thus know him as “Seresh.” — YM]

  4. Anonymous says:

    They banned this DVD in Lakewood, which is maybe why it isn’t on the artscrol website. Sad world we live in!

  5. mb says:

    Yehoshua Friedman.
    Artscroll took it down because Lakewood complained.

  6. Shades of Gray says:

    “It’s clearly targeted at the frum market, but I suspect everyone will enjoy the film, regardless.”

    According to what I’ve seen online, it was banned in one community. I am sure, however, that CJ has his own rabbinical guidance.

    I think it’s a case of DSDF(Different Strokes for Different Folks).

  7. Nachum says:

    My wife points out that it’s kind of sad that one of the few Jewish stories with a heroine gets turned into a story with a male hero.

    [I think the premise is unsupported. Geulas Mitzrayim? In the merit of the righteous women. Chanukah? The only character mentioned in Shulchan Aruch is Yehudis. Are these minor details? — YM]

  8. Marty Bluke says:

    It seems the Megillas Lester has been banned in Lakewood because the video “profanes and embarrasses the holy. R’ Menken, does this change your opinion of the video?

  9. lacosta says:

    if one looks on line , one can find this video already banned—- [excerpt]

    My source tells me this was posted in the coffeee room of Bais Medrash Govoha (Lakewood Yeshiva). It is signed by Rabbis Dovid Schustel, Yeruchem Olshin, Yisroel Neuman, Yakov Forscheimer and Asher Chaim Lieberman. The first three are three of the four rosh yeshivas of Bais Medrash Govoha. The other two are prominent Lakewood haredi rabbis and poskim (decisors of halakha, Jewish law) for the yeshiva


    Artscroll has pulled the video from its website.

  10. Mordy says:

    To be politically correct from the orthodox community perspective, they do not have animated characters of either Mordechai or Esther. I remember when I taught yeshiva ketana that we used picture books with chassidishe characters posing as the Avos (Avrahom, Yitzchok and Yaakov). The Avos obviously didn’t wear shtreimals and there’s no proof they wore payos (sidelocks) but that’s what they were depicted as and the yeshiva had no problem giving the children these coloring books. How can you make a Purim story based on the story of Purim and not have Mordechai and Esther? Chabad, Aish HaTorah and Torah Tots all make colouring pages with characters representing the Avos. The true story is better than any fictional one based on it, and I believe they should have stuck with it and added Mordechai and Esther with a disclaimer before the film starts. Without Mordechai and Esther, Purim just isn’t Purim!

  11. Ben says:

    I don’t understand; this video is not the story of purim. Vashti comes to the party; Esther never becomes queen; Lester overhears Bigsan and Seresh; etc., etc.

    I would never let my kids see this; I don’t want to confuse them. My 7 year old won’t be able to keep straight what actually happened and this figment of someone’s imagination. It certainly isn’t worth it so that he can see the bigdei kehuna on King May-as-well-be-pharaoh (because this has as much to do with purim as with mitzrayim).

  12. Ben says:

    Why did you say the most significant digression is saying seresh instead of teresh. I think Esther not becoming queen is ever so slightly more significant.

  13. Yaakov Menken says:

    As they say, you get to have your own opinion, but not your own facts. Ben, if you actually watched the movie, then you know by the end the selection of a new Queen will go forward, just delayed.

    That the story of Purim isn’t happening in order isn’t a digression, it’s the plot. Gary has a much better point — that the message of Teshuvah, repentance, is missing. But you can’t have everything in a child-friendly, fun movie.

    Honestly, I think your 7 year old is more perceptive than you do, or that the plot twists are harder to miss than you think. But the chinuch of your son is your Mitzvah!

  14. Yaakov Menken says:

    OK, my apologies to all whose comments were only approved now — there have been a flood of comments because of recent posts on high-profile matters, this being one of the least of them! So I’d missed the several comments calling attention to the ban.

    If Megillas Lester was indeed removed from Artscroll, it’s back. It certainly wasn’t gone long.

    As we all know, bans of this nature are very good for sales outside the radius of those behind them. Everyone gets what they want — the followers of those rabbis will not watch the movie, and everyone else will.

    I spoke with the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael, Rav Aharon Feldman, about the film this morning. He had not heard of it previously; this is not on the list of major issues affecting the Kollel.

    It could be that the Rabbonim in Lakewood object as a matter of principle to any film or cartoon depiction of characters in Tanach. The Rosh Yeshiva said he can’t give an opinion without seeing the movie, but nothing I described to him appeared to draw a negative reaction. He’s certainly not going to contradict the R”Y of Lakewood without much more information — because who knows what I didn’t describe adequately — so it’s something you need to address with your Rav.

  15. Moshe says:

    @Yaakov Menken: “…if you actually watched the movie, then you know by the end the selection of a new Queen will go forward, just delayed.”

    The purpose of Esther becoming queen was (presumably) to prevent Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews from coming to fruition. However, in the Megillas Lester altered timeline, Haman is executed, and his plans thwarted, before Esther ever becomes queen. With Haman out of the way, why should it be necessary (in the Megillas Lester timeline) for Esther to become queen at all?

  16. cvmay says:

    YM, it is interesting that Rav Feldman, RY in Baltimore was not at all aware of a Video that came out of Baltimore.
    The first official showing was in Baltimore, so I heard. The video is CUTE, if you desire to view…do it, if not, don’t.

  17. Shades of Gray says:

    The last pasuk in Megilas Esther reads ורצוי לרוב אחיו, “Mordechai was accepted by the majority of his brothers”, on which Chazal comment:

    לרוב אחיו ולא לכל אחיו מלמד שפירשו ממנו מקצת סנהדרין

    If even Mordechai of Megilas Esther couldn’t please everyone, should one not expect the same from a Lester ? While one can dispute this reasoning, it might be best further discussed on the day of Purim itself 🙂

  18. Reb Yid says:

    They played this video for my boys in school on Friday.

    FWIW, the responses weren’t so effusive.

  19. L. Oberstein says:

    Rabbi Binyamin Marwick, the rav of Shomrei Emunah in Baltimore gave a one hour shiur with sources on this topic, more on Purim plays than videos. He showed that for 500 years or maybe 800 years, people have been doing “shtik” like Megillas Lester and for all of that time, there were those who opposed it.
    That is just the way it is, nothing finds favor in everyone’s eyes.
    Yeshivos have largely put an end to Purim Plays because they have become vehicles for insults and parodies of rabbis and other students that harm their “victims’ and lead to bad feelings. He concluded with a teshuva from Rav Rimon whic asks why not just make the play non insulting? Why end everything becuase some people do it in the wrong way? In any event , my wife took my grandchildren teo see Megialas Lester at the OU Center in Jerusalem and she wasn’t scandalized by it. If the people in Lakewood don’t want to see it, that is their perogative, but bans have never worked and are just good publicity and bring more business to the item being banned.That is historically shown also.

  20. Eliezer Eisenberg says:

    Responding to Gary’s important comment, that the story elides the essential point of teshuva:
    This is a boy’s dream. He’s nervous about the responsibility thrust upon him. The future of the school depends on the success of his play. Through his dream, he reminds himself that, as the Mordechai character tells him, with tefilla and bitachon, Hashem works His will through each and every one of us. That is the important message that mattered to Lester. All other elements in the story were blurred to emphasize that point. In his dream, only Persians were at the party, the Jews did not sin, Vashti didn’t have a tail, Haman’s sons don’t appear at all. But it’s a dream, and nobody reasonable, not even a child watching this video, expects a boy’s dream to be a graphic Malbim.

    [Vashti has a tail in the movie — watch the scene in the salon more carefully. And only King Achashverosh has a Persian accent; to me it sounds like Bigsan came all the way from Brooklyn. But in all seriousness, this was very well said. — YM]

  21. Eliezer Eisenberg says:

    I thank you for the all the time and effort that you put into this thoughtful and dignified forum.
    How could I have missed the tail! Evidently, even constructive comments, as all dreams, can have some chaff.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This