Have you ever been planning what to do over the weekend and thought, “Gee, I wish I could somehow emulate fleeing a pogrom. That would be fun!”?
If so, you’re in luck—a Jewish-themed escape room is opening soon in Brooklyn.
If you’ve missed the escape room trend so far, they’re group outings, especially for nerds. You and a team of your friends (who are about to prove their worth) are “locked” in a room with a timer of usually an hour. In that hour, you need to find and solve puzzles around the room that lead to other puzzles, and so on, until you’ve found what you need to get you out of the room.
Themes include outer space, international spies, Victorian detective. You know—settings in which you might be expected to use some brain power under pressure.
But an enterprising group of Jews in Brooklyn have decided to open OneBefore Escape, a storefront on Avenue M with a series of escape rooms that put the player in the likes of Ellis Island and the shtetl.
“Just Meshugeneh Amount of Family Fun and Inspiration,” says the sign hanging above the dormant storefront.
“At One Before Escape we aim to get you to experience the fusion of genealogy and an escape room,” reads the website.
The website has a bizarre blog that (sort of) explains that this series of escape rooms was inspired by one writer, Jeffrey Mark Paull, researching his own family tree. And so, the puzzles in these escape rooms are based on different chapters of Jewish history. (This is as best I can tell, as it’s hard to make sense of the blog, which uses phrases like “At One Before Escape, we are always looking for ways of employing Data Science and Machine Learning in service of princely genealogy.”)
It seems simple enough, even cute— getting out of Ellis Island into America could be educational for kids. But the game masters don’t stop there. For example, one of the rooms featured is pogrom-themed, which is amazing on several levels. First of all, there’s the implication that you could have just outwitted the Cossacks to survive (an offensive, but still very Jewish take). Second, we have reached the point in Jewish history where traumatic anti-Semitic violence can be made into a game. This isn’t just any violence, mind you—pogroms are barely a century in the past.
I mean, if they needed a setting like that, they could at least have gone with the destruction of the Second Temple or the Inquisition or something—something further in the past. According to the room’s blog, Dr. Paull traced his family all the way back to King David (escape the cave while hiding from King Saul! That’s an idea!). But in any case, get your wits about you and prepare for the worst—your ancestors did.
There is no official opening date (it’s been delayed at least once), but organizers insist the opening is nigh. In the meantime, you can also check out the trailer for the room below, but it doesn’t explain much.
Gabriela Geselowitz is a writer and the former editor of Jewcy.com.