Aside from the fact that the holiday of Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people more than 3,300 years ago, the summer festival has an added significance for Rabbi Levi Welton.

Beginning Sunday night, Shavuot is also the day that in 837 B.C.E., King David passed away, conferring the crown on his son, Solomon. For Welton, a Chabad-Lubavitch Chasid who plays the biblical king in his one-man “King David Show,” the holiday is a special time to celebrate the life of a Jewish figure who united a nation, set in motion the construction of the Holy Temple and composed a liturgy of praises to G‑d unequaled in their beauty and power.

Dovid Hamelech,” said Welton, using the Hebrew name of the great king who as a lone shepherd defeated Goliath, “is an inspiration to me because he stood up to great odds against him.”

Welton, a Berkeley, Calif., native who last Thursday performed for the Oakland Hebrew Day School in a special pre-Shavuot showing, added that through his Psalms, King David showed people how being contrite can perfect their relationship with G‑d.

“He set an example to all people,” said Welton, “that even if you sin, you can repent, and eventually reach even greater heights.”

According to the children, parents, teachers and counselors who have watched his performance over the past year, it’s hard to not walk away inspired.

Welton’s “portrayal of King David’s life was extremely dynamic and informative,” said Bat Sheva Miller, the assistant director for Judaic studies at the Oakland school “After the show, the students had a hard time returning to class.”

Characterized by the frenetic presence of Welton, the “King David Show” incorporates audience participation, humor, and more than a little bit of anachronistic references to modern life, such as jet travel and cell-phones.

Continually evolving, the show last week took a new turn, with Welton acting out the Midrashic tale in which King David asks G‑d about the purpose of spiders. Several years later, according to the story, G‑d protects King David as he hides in a cave from King Saul by sending a spider to spin a web and block the cave’s entrance.

“I learned new things,” reported Robert Knop, 11, a camper at the Camp Gan Israel run by Chabad-Lubavitch of Contra Costa, Calif.

Among the pieces of knowledge Knop, who attends the local Chabad Hebrew School during the year, walked away with: King David “wasn’t allowed to build the Temple, because he was always fighting in wars, but King Solomon was allowed to, because he wasn’t.”

Added Knop: “The show was great. I liked the comedy and the good acting.”

Humble Beginnings

Rabbi Levi Welton, right, wrote the “King David Show” in order to inspire children with tales of the biblical figure’s humility.
Rabbi Levi Welton, right, wrote the “King David Show” in order to inspire children with tales of the biblical figure’s humility.

Welton, 24, has always been a performer. As a kid, he enjoyed telling stories to his brothers and sisters, and acted in several plays. As a teacher in elementary schools in Sydney, Australia, and S. Francisco, he reached his students by performing dramatic monologues.

When a friend asked him to play the leading role of Judah the Maccabee in the 2006 Chanukah-themed “Maccabees” production at Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Jewish Children’s Museum, Welton jumped at the opportunity.

“You don’t get a chance to really inspire that many people often,” said Welton, who is completing a certificate in digital film at Berkeley City College and a masters degree in educational leadership at Bellevue University. “It was awesome.”

Over a span of two months, 14,000 watched Welton’s depiction of Judah the Maccabee. After a stream of positive feedback, the rabbi decided to take on another biblical role: King David.

“He is an extremely talented actor,” said Zevi Steinhauser, spokesperson for the Jewish Children’s Museum, a project of the Chabad-Lubavitch children’s organization Tzivos Hashem.

With the support of the museum, Welton spent two weeks writing his original hour-long script. He then performed it at the institution before taking it on the road at a string of Hebrew schools and camps.

Welton “has a unique ability to share the history and values of King David with the audience, regardless of background or prior knowledge,” said Shternie Kagan, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary and co-director of the Contra Costa center. “Campers and counselors alike enjoyed this entertaining and educational experience!”

When news of the show reached Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann, director of the Schottenstein Chabad House in Columbus, Ohio, he flew Welton up to perform for the students at his Hebrew School.

“It is truly heart-warming to see that an ancient story can come to life,” said Kaltmann. “The children derived more excitement from watching his show than from television.

“King David,” added Kaltmann, “has a tremendous message about a humble person who just wants to serve the Jewish people.”

For more information, visit Welton’s Web site.