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From the Rabbi's Study

 

Pasta for Purim

 

One of the most widely practiced traditions of Purim is to drown out the name of Haman with noise, when it is read from the megillah. Of all the practices of Purim, making noise is one that is done with a special zeal. Traditionally we use groggers, but noisemakers come in all shapes and sizes. Over the years, I have seen people use air horns, trumpets, buzzers, bells, drums, and other assorted loud noises to blot out the name of Haman on Purim. As much fun as people have making noise on Purim, the custom of blotting out Haman's name with loud noise is not a mitzvah. But perhaps we can make it one?

There are three mitzvot associated with the celebration of Purim. The first is to hear reading of the megillah. To fulfill the mitzvah, one must hear every word of the megillah. In order to ensure the mitzvah is fulfilled, some will repeat the name Haman after all the noise dies down, so all can here every word, even Haman, read clearly. The second mitzvah of Purim is Mishloach Manot, giving gift basket to friends on Purim day. The third mitzvah of Purim is Matanot La'evyonim, giving gifts to the poor. Usually this is done through giving money to the needy, though it can fulfilled in others ways, as well. 

Last Purim we supplemented the noise of our groggers with the sound of shaking pasta boxes. People brought boxes of pasta from home, and at the synagogue we sold additional boxes for a nominal donation. In addition to making added noise, the boxes of pasta allowed us to transform a fun custom into a mitzvah. After Purim services, the boxes of pasta were collected and donated, along with the funds collected, to the Rhoda Bloom Food Pantry. 

Next Wednesday we celebrate Purim with fun, food, our MJC Purim Shpeil and a lot of noise. We will have groggers and boxes of pasta. Join us for the mitzvah of hearing the megillah and as we transform our noise into another mitzvah of helping the needy. We will celebrate the miracle of Purim that saved our people thousands of years ago and help save some people in our community.

 

With wishes for a joyful Purim and a Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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Who Will Write Our History?

  

On Tuesday night, I attended the showing of the documentary, Who Will Write Our History?. It was a prelude to the Rockland Jewish Film Festival, and is a powerful and poignant presentation of one of the lesser known stories coming from the Holocaust. The film is about a small group, who called themselves by the code name "Oyneg Shabes." Led by an historian, Emanuel Ringelblum, the members of Oyneg Shabes set out to record Jewish life in the ghetto. While Nazi propaganda was spreading lies about the Jews being dirty, decrepit creatures who needed to be cordoned off from society, Oyneg Shabes was recording the beauty and depth of Jewish life that was being perpetuated under extreme conditions. Their activity started as an act of defiance. They would not let the Nazis tell their story and write their history; they were determined to write their own history. 

As the war continued and circumstances worsened, the Oyneg Shabes evolved from recording Jewish life in the ghetto to writing about the efforts to extinguish it with first hand, contemporary accounts of Nazi atrocities. Just days before the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the Oyneg Shabes archives were buried, only to be retrieved after the war. Of all the films and documentaries I have seen, Who Will Write Our History, affected me in ways that I am still trying to understand. 

Among the thoughts running through my mind, is what spurred this small group of Jews, under horrible conditions, to risk their lives to record Jewish life? Their stated objective was to not let Nazi propaganda be the last word on Jewish life. But through their activity, they gave a rationale to their actions. In a powerless situation, these people took control and resisted Nazi efforts to define Jewish life. They would be the ones to define their own lives and existence.

In the coming weeks we celebrate Purim and Passover. On first thought, they seem to have nothing in common with the Holocaust, but reflecting on the themes of these holidays, we see that each celebrates the victory over enemies that sought to annihilate our people. Additionally, each holiday presents us with a history, written by our people, telling our own story, the Megillah of Esther and the Hagaddah of Passover. More than just reading the stories, we enhance them with our own experiences as we retell them.

On Purim, we will read the megillah, but at MJC we have an annual tradition of reinterpreting the story of Purim in our own special way with the presentation of our Purim Shpeil. Our shpeilers contemporize the story, adding even more satire and jokes, and we celebrate our victory over evil that sought to destroy us. On Passover, we sit around the seder table, reading the haggadah, retelling the story of our redemption from Egypt. Each year, new haggadahs are published because there are always new ways for us to write our own story. Rather than repeating the haggadah by rote, our seders offer us the opportunity to renew the telling of our story every year.

Writing our history and telling our story has been a Jewish obligation throughout the ages, at poignant times and joyful celebrations. The greatest memorial to the people of the Oyneg Shabes, and to all our ancestors, is to continue to tell their story and be committed to telling our own stories each and every year and throughout the generations.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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 Purim is Coming!

 

This Shabbat, we announce the new month of Adar 2 and begin to focus on Purim. In truth, we at Montebello Jewish Center have been focusing on Purim for a while. The Purim Shpeilers have been hard at work on this year's Purim shpeil for months (I think they began around last Passover). Plans are being made for services and megillah reading, and our students are preparing for a wonderful Purim carnival. As Purim approaches we are already in the Purim mood! 

But each year at this time, I shake my head as I think of people planning to dress up as Queen Esther, Mordechai, King Achashverosh, and even Haman. Not that I have anything against costumes, in fact I love when people get dressed up for Purim (I'm even beginning to think about my costume), but the incongruity of our tradition that extols a story centered on royal balls and debauchery is mystifying. There must be a hidden message to Purim. 

One fascinating aspect is that in our Bible the scrolls of Esther and Song of Songs are the only books in which the Name of God does not appear. While the Song of Songs is read as an allegory with God as an intrinsic part, Esther is read differently. Certain commentaries will read references to "the king" or "the place" as allusion to God. This gives rise to a general belief that God is hidden within Megillat Esther. Indeed, the whole hidden nature of Purim is underscored by the tradition of wearing costumes and masks. Everyone is hidden on Purim, even God. Yet, in the end, God's salvation comes and the Jewish People are saved. 

There are many lessons that Megillat Esther teaches us. Perhaps the most important is the unity of the Jewish people. We were all going to be destroyed, but the source of God's salvation was not necessarily the most pious, or religious. We can never know from where our salvation will come and who will be the source of that salvation. As a people, we learn from Megillat Esther that our future depends on an inclusive view of Judaism. The entire Jewish people were saved from a most unexpected source; it is a lesson that we are reminded of every year, is never is out of date, and is one that needs to be celebrated. 

Join us this Shabbat as we announce the month of Adar 2 and Purim. Make sure to mark on your calendars, Wednesday evening, March 20 and join us at 6:00 PM for our Purim celebration of fun, food, Purim Shpeil, and Megillah.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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