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Day in the Life of Mordechai Schulgasser

Rachel Bachrach

Mordechai Schulgasser is a fire performer and the owner of Emes Aish in Jerusalem, Israel

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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Juggling torches, eating flares, and spinning flames is the hottest way to spark up a simchah, but when the smoke clears, he’s back to the beis medrash burning the midnight oil .

What I do

Fire shows — fire aesthetics and performances. What we don’t do: we aren’t a circus, nor do we do some kind of entertainment that includes fire tricks. It’s just all fire.

What that means

We do performances. They can run from one minute to one hour, and they include an array of fire crafts: juggling, war, fun, with exciting music and coordinating uniforms. We also design and build custom creations out of fire — decorate event grounds with fire bowls, lamps, torches, and so on. Some are freestanding, some operated by staff.

My staff

When someone just wants an in-and-out — usually at a wedding, where I wait around for two hours just to get the perfect two minutes — it’s just me. Same with a low-budget shorter show. But the longer the show and the larger the budget, the larger the staff. When I need assistants, I call on friends from yeshivah or elsewhere, people familiar with fire and my systems, to be anything from security to performers to aesthetic staff.

My biggest gig

It was actually my first, a desert wedding, we had a seven-man crew on site for eight hours. People ask, “What can you be doing already?!” Well, lamps on the property, multiple light performances throughout the crowd during reception, uniformed soldiers bearing eight-foot torches on the aisle, a flaming chuppah, post-yichud, a full performance between dancing sets, including a human torch — that gives you an idea. The client mentioned in the prep meetings that he wanted his chutznik relatives to have their jaws on the ground — we succeeded!

How I got started

Unfortunately as a child; I was mesmerized by flames, setting stuff on fire. About 13 years ago, I was introduced to the art of poi — a type of juggling craft made to be set on fire, and then I discovered the world of fire performance. After a while, I lost interest in the technical maneuvers and started coming up with my own ideas for manipulating flames that looked cool and entertaining. About five years ago, I went public, but this isn’t a full-time deal — I learn full time and do this on the side.

Busiest time of year

Chol Hamoed Succos and Chanukah are big show times, and I’m always popping into weddings. Most gigs come via word of mouth. People have urged me to go more public and get the big jobs, but that’s not the kind of life I’m looking for; I’d rather perform for a lower budget bar mitzvah in Yerushalayim than a high-end corporate event in Tel Aviv. My life when I’m not playing with fire is pretty busy — I learn all day and most nights at Yeshivah Midrash Shmuel. It’s hard for people to imagine that the guy dressed in black leather swinging around giant flaming whatever is actually a kollelnik. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 689)

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