After 146 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus “The Greatest Show on Earth” is shutting down this year, with its final performance scheduled for May 21 at the Nassau Coliseum. It means that this Chol Hamoed Pesach (that’s intermediate days of Passover to the uninitiated) will be the last chance for Metropolitan Area Jews with their boxes of chocolate covered matzos and kosher for Passover Coke to enjoy the most popular religious-Jewish entertainment bar none.
On the fun part of the Jewish holiday, the Ringling Brothers went out of their way to make their show available to Orthodox Jews, including giving the night off to all their female performers, including, as the NY Tims noted back in 2004, “Lycra-clad star aerialist and horse trainer Sylvia Zerbini, a.k.a. the Circus Siren.” They also sold bunless kosher hotdogs installed two brand-new, chometz-free cotton candy machines that year.
The Orthodox community in the metro area had Brooklyn yeshiva Birchas Shmuel principal Rabbi Raphael Wallerstein to thank for this treat, which was repeated on Chol Hamoed Sukkot, but without the chometz restrictions. The circus also sold block tickets to allow for separate seating for men and women.
“Ringling asked us what must be done, and we went over the entire script together so the show would be nice for the whole community. Today’s entertainment is not clean, so we wanted to have some clean entertainment for our children,” Rabbi Wallerstein told Tablet Magazine in 2013.
The women-free show included clowns, animals, tight-rope dancers, a basketball team on unicycles and acrobats.
Oh, and, according to Rabbi Wallerstein, a performer named Crazy Wilson Dominguez who crosses himself before starting his walk on the whirling Pendulum of Pandemonium, was asked to gesticulate in private.
Kenneth Feld, who’s owned the circus since 1967 and in 2006 was inducted into the International Circus Hall of Fame, is Jewish, as is his wife, Bonnie Turen.
Feld’s daughter, Juliette, the company’s chief operating officer, told the NY Post attendance went down when they had to retire the elephants for budgetary reasons. Attendance has been dropping for 10 years, Juliette Feld told the Post, but when the elephants left, there was a “dramatic drop” in ticket sales.