OneBefore Escape, a Jewish Escape Room in the heart of Brooklyn, had opened. Escape rooms have been spreading rapidly across the globe, growing in the thousands. Now it has finally crossed over into the Jewish sector too. An escape room is an interactive physical game. A group of players get locked in a room with a theme, a guiding story, and have to solve a series of puzzles and riddles in order to escape. The players have a time limit, usually 60 minutes, to escape.
The day of the game arrived. Gamliel Beyderman, the founder and owner of OneBefore Escape, directed me to stroll through the premises a.k.a art gallery. Gamliel is a Russian-speaking Columbia-educated Lubavitcher who left a career in Data Science to start America’s first stationary Jewish Escape Room. Paintings escorted me on both sides through the hallway to the party room where even more of the beauty hung in wait. The paintings were practically jumping out of their frames, each one eagerly telling a story of the Tzaddik, the Shpoler Zeide.
The first room in the escape room is based on the genealogical journey of Dr. Jeffrey Mark Paull. In his quest to discover his family tree, he found an incredibly rich history of ancestors made of leading Torah scholars, tzaddikim, and even royalty. One of the noble ancestors he found in his ancestry line is the Shpoler Zeide, who is featured in the Shpola Room. The Shpoler Zeide was an early Chassidic master, renowned for his love of his fellow Jews. He would rush to defend them from bitter Anti-Semites, and stand up for them before heavenly judgment.
Our game began and we got cracking. The 60 minute countdown quietly appeared on a screen placed high on the wall. My friend and I took in our surroundings; ancient suitcases piled haphazardly one atop the other, a desk resting snug in the far corner, a cupboard stocked with venerable books. These items, as well as others, had been pointed out to us and we rushed to start. We scrambled to make sense on the clues and puzzles, and slowly but surely made some headway. At one point we sat stuck at a loss and begrudgingly, albeit unsurprisingly asked for a hint. The hint charmingly appeared typed out on the screen with the countdown timer. Yikes! Less than half of our allotted time was left. We redoubled our efforts and soon enough finished up the last puzzle. The door unlocked with a click.
To the second room.
Not to our escape as our shrinking egos were hoping for. We were ecstatic though, and sped around trying to figure what to do next. The second room felt like stepping into another dimension with antique looking items and prominent wooden furniture, combined with puzzles made of modern technology. Try hard as we could, (and with more hints, shhh!), the time ran out before we could escape. Mr. Beyderman joined us in the room and explained to us the puzzles we hadn’t finished.
In fact, the entire idea of creating escape rooms around stories of tzaddikim is an exciting new development in authentic Jewish entertainment. I say authentic because there exists ample Jewish entertainment that has been or is wildly popular, from the Yiddish Theatre on Broadway to modern Israeli singer Netta Barzilai, winner of the 2018 Eurovision Contest. Yet this category of entertainment is Jewish only when under the label of culture, or at least performed or composed by Jews. Entertainment that is authentically Jewish, communicating timeless Jewish values and eternal Torah values, is not quite as abundant. In fact, we are left lacking, apart from the occasional Jewish concert and high school production. An escape room that imparts Jewish stories and virtues is hopefully just the beginning of a new era in Jewish entertainment.
There is a saying from the Baal Shem Tov,
“Bemakom shemachshavto shel adam, sham hu nimtza.” – “Where a person’s thoughts are, that’s where he is.” What better place is there to be than in the life of a tzaddik? In the Shpola Room our minds became completely immersed in trying to put together Dr. Paull’s lineage, leading us into the life of his ancestor, the well-known tzaddik, the Shpoler Zeide. Leading us into the world of a favored childhood story and into the origins of a popular lively Niggun-song.
My friend and I walked out of there charged and excited and didn’t want to part ways just yet. However, with the dreary weather, chatting on a bench was not too appealing. We were pumped that OneBefore Escape is in the heart of a thriving Jewish community, so we had no issue finding a place to pop in for a drink or a bite. We took refuge in the Ice Cream House just a block away, enjoying the last few daylight hours. It is not very hard to guess that we plan on coming back for their next room!
To learn more about the Jewish escape room, visit onebeforeescape.com