A Poem For Purim in Which Our Happiness Gets Bigger by Rick Lupert


It is the Hebrew month of Adar and my
happiness is getting bigger.

That’s not meant to sound dirty.
It’s a traditional tradition, as old as Purim itself

as old as eating cookies shaped like human ears
as old as wearing Venetian masks

I think Purim is where Mardi Gras got the idea.
As Purim approaches, our happiness gets bigger.

On this day we march down the Bourbon Streets
of our lives, imbibing whatever it takes

to blur the lines between what’s wrong and what’s right.
(or what’s left if you’re feeling politically charged)

Hoping, no mandated, to see how close we are
to evil, and still land on the good side of the line.

I have to be honest, when I first heard the word
Megillah, I was disappointed to find out it didn’t

have anything to do with Gorillas. The cartoon of
my youth informing my understanding of Jewish History.

I’d always wanted a monkey of any kind and to
find out Purim only led to a cookie, was a tragedy

of King Kongian proportions. It was like someone
was saying Haman to me as loud as they could

next to my ear which I’m lucky enough to
still have attached. And can we all just agree,

There should be a much higher proportion of
chocolate Hamentaschen? (no offense fruit)

This is all getting a bit silly, but that’s Purim.
Straddling the line between good and evil.

A dizzying balance to maintain. I’m standing
on one foot. Hoping the other one lands

in a respectable location. My happiness is
getting bigger. I’d draw you a picture, but

I’m out of time.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Edmon J. Rodman’s Purim sign has vibrant colors to brighten his mood. Photo by Edmon J. Rodman

Seeking joy in the month of Adar


In a year when many of us are feeling varying degrees of political depression, Purim will arrive not a minute too soon.

After absorbing several stories about toppled headstones in Jewish cemeteries and waves of bomb threats at Jewish community centers across the country — including one to the Westside JCC, where my wife and I sent our kids to preschool — I needed something to change my melancholy mask to something happier. To my surprise, the month of Adar, Purim’s place on the Jewish calendar, was it.

Providing reprieve from the day-to-day downer news was the serendipitous proclamation in the Talmud that “When Adar enters, we increase our joy.” To make sure the message stuck, I discovered, there is even a custom of hanging a sign in your home with the saying on it. 

But could just a few words on a piece of paper make anyone happy? Especially in times like these? If finding happiness were that easy, it seems a lot of therapists would be out of work.

However, if a simple sign actually could help move you to a moment of joy, you couldn’t beat the price. And considering that Obamacare may soon be history, I reasoned, we might all need to make something like this work, anyway.

So, a few weeks before Purim, when we read the Megillat Esther — the ancient story of how Esther and Mordecai saved the Jews of Persia from the death sentence decreed by Haman — I decided to issue my own joy decree, with a sign declaring it for all to see. Hoping to chromatically distance myself from a mood of blue, I wrote my sign, which reads “When Adar Begins, We Increase in Joy” — in violet and hot pink. Committed to my new role as joy-seeker, I posted it on the refrigerator and made it the wallpaper for my cellphone and computer. Now, I was happiness-ready.

“Let the simchas roll,” I thought.

Except they didn’t. The sign kept the idea on my mind, all right — I could picture it with my eyes closed, but the wellspring of joy that Adar supposedly promised somehow remained elusive. With every deadline and headline, my happiness goal seemed to get pushed back another day.

Still, the next evening, seeing the sign on the fridge, with it’s bright letters almost pulsing, lit a small flame, and nudged me into trying to cook, an activity that I enjoy. The resulting asparagus stir fry made me smile — and my wife, too — yet, like Chinese takeout, this appetizer of joy left me hungry for something more.

Satisfying my hunger was a passage I found in a kind of Jewish philosophical cookbook called Pirkei Avot, or “Ethics of the Fathers.” “Who is rich?” it asked. “He who is happy with his lot,” came the answer, leading me to consider that the next time I get out the wok, I should focus more on the joy of the moment: my ability to experience the sound, the smell and the taste of cooking. As Ecclesiastes suggests, “There is nothing better for a person than to rejoice in his work.”

The next day, under the influence of my sign, I tried a different tack, going out into the backyard to check out our blooming blueberry bushes. Imagining how sweet they would taste in pancakes only withered, however, into recalling that after the berries began to ripen, I would need to do battle with the birds, who were as excited about them as me.

And yet, I was reminded of the wisdom of Rav Yerucham Levovitz in his work “Sefer Chochmah uMussar,” in which he states, “A truly happy person does not allow his happiness to be dependent on any external factor over which he may not have control.” I suspect he would have told me to forget about the birds, but there they were, still fluttering up my joy.

Looking for something over which I did have control, I turned to the orderliness of my prayer book. There I found Ashrei, a prayer that I have read many times on Shabbat morning. “Happy are those who dwell in Your house,” it begins. Though this verse, taken from Psalm 84, clearly suggests that happiness comes from dwelling in God’s house, reading it during my quest for joy made me wonder how I could make myself happy in my own spiritual house, as well.

A week later, I had my chance.

The Movable Minyan, an independent congregation that we attend on Shabbat, is completely lay-led. Although Shabbat is supposedly a time of peacefulness, sometimes the minyan is everything but, with a group of busy individuals coming together to lead services, read Torah, give a drash and contribute to a potluck lunch.

Yet, the morning was a joy. Why? Examining our services through the words of my newly found sages of joy, I could see that the efforts of our instrumentalist and service leaders (of which I was one) helped to create an atmosphere of rejoicing, making the morning a real simcha, one where all present could be happy with our lot. And the delicious dairy meal that followed seemed a perfect fit for the rav’s prerequisite for happiness, as the uncoordinated menu was completely out of our control.

Bringing it all together for me, though, was my experience leading Shacharit, something I have done for years. When it came time for singing El Adon, which speaks to the grandeur of nature and its Creator, my eyes moved over to the English translation and I saw the words, “Rejoicing” and “gladly,” as if for the first time. This time, I took it as a sign.

Adar: Conflict and joy and a recipe for stuffed dates


This article first appeared on Neesh Noosh

We are encouraged to celebrate and have more joy than normal during the month of Adar.

“The whole month of Adar is learning how to grow and heal through joy and laughter. . . . . the main reason we came into this world is to experience and teach joy.” writes Melinda Ribner of Kabbalah of the Heart. Moses was born on the 7th of Adar and the holiday of Purim (the miracle of the Jews survival against Haman) is celebrated during Adar. The 9th of Adar commemorates “marks the day that two thousand years ago healthy disagreements ‘for the sake of Heaven’ turned destructive.”  In honor of it, the 9Adar project is a week devoted to “strengthening a culture of constructive conflict across personal, political, religious, and other divides.”

Living in Israel now makes me acutely aware of the need for constructive conflict skills here. I love and appreciate the multi-faceted diverse nature of this country. But, whether it’s the mundane experience of impatient people at[insert location of choice] or the more serious societal divisions based on one’s religious practices, politics, race or geographical residence, there are challenges (and I am referring to things that go beyond the average Israeli’s normal direct words and actions).

Indeed, in my brief time here thus far, I’ve chosen to participate in many activities where I’m an “outsider” and each of these experiences has only increased my joy because I’ve felt welcome, been part of a cultural bridge, listened to someone else’s perspective that is different from mine and/or stood in solidarity with someone who was victimized because of their identity.  We could each be inspired by Moses, a humble person, as we reflect on our identities and beliefs during the process of constructive conflict. Indeed, processing conflict in a respectful way is rewarding. Perhaps it’s not process for more “joy” one would expect during Adar (watching a comedy film might be an easier option), it can be powerful and meaningful.

The food that I prepared for Adar is a sweet for Purim that also looks (a bit!) like sushi fish (fish is the symbol of Adar). While I learned this recipe at at Tu B’shevat seder, the no-added-sugar, protein-rich treat is delicious (and easy to prepare) to put in your Purim baskets. I love these (ie joy) and hope you feel the same, too!

Stuffed Dates

Ingredients

  • 5 Medjool dates, pits removed
  • 5 walnuts or almond
  • 1 tbsp nut butter (peanut, almond, etc)
  • 1 tsp cacao nibs or powder
  • optional: 1 tbsp shredded coconut

 

Preparation

1. Remove pits from dates.
2. Place a nut in each date. Put a bit of the nut butter inside and sprinkle with cacao nibs or powder. Option to top each one with shredded coconut.

B’tayavon!

First Person – My Upfsherin


The upfsherin (hair cutting ceremony) took place on the last day of Shevat — an auspicious time for a healing ritual. The day before Rosh Chodesh (first day of the month) is observed, in the medieval mystical practice of Yom Kippur katan (little Yom Kippur) — a day for cleansing, purification, and preparation — just what shaving my head represented, as I began my fifth week of chemotherapy.

The upfsherin fell on the cusp of the months of Shevat and Adar — also propitious. The landscape of Shevat, in which we celebrate the rebirth of the trees, is a vegetative mirror of a bald head. Yet inside those leafless trees the sap is rising, life-giving elixirs watering it back to life. While we know that spring will come, the trees of Shevat often look like brittle sticks. Healing seems unlikely. This same feeling is hard to escape amidst chemotherapy’s limitations.

But Adar comes, with its joy and celebration. Lifting the weight of winter and of the fluids that run through the trees, swelling the buds and propelling green shoots in preparation for spring, Adar is the month of reversals. In Megillat Esther, stories of gloom and doom surprise us with happy endings. Destruction that seemed determined is overturned. The Jewish people survive and flourish. I embrace these metaphors for my healing journey, linking my bodily resurrection to that of the sycamore tree in my garden.

This is not the first time I have turned to that tree for guidance. In 1995, for the year after my father died, I retreated to the company of the tree. I sat for long periods, looking at the tree, thinking about my father. Looking through the skylight in my office, the seasons’ changes in color and texture against the California sky reflected my internal changes. The tree’s efforts to hold onto its leaves, as the autumn winds pulled, became my own resistance to letting go of my father and facing the starkness of winter without his protection. The hole in the trunk, where a branch had been cut away many years before, became my early wounds, reopened with this new loss. The burst of green, that appeared overnight to propel my tree into springtime, expressed my own rebirth of energy. By the summer, I was ready to leave my tree companion to teach and to study.

Once again my tree teaches me of the paradox of constancy and change that is the grace of the seasons. Embracing my tree as a companion weds me to life — and to the life-affirming progression of the seasons. It carries me forward, on the wings of time, beckoning me to use time as a healer.

For the upfsherin, I decorated a chair with ribbons in purple, green and gold — Mardi Gras colors — to mark the mutual healing for my beloved hometown and my own body as we confront the floods of toxic chemicals. I put a sheet on the floor to catch the falling hair. I explained the ritual’s intention and plan and introduced a prayer, affirming my vision for healing, encouraging others to join in:

Dear God:
Gimme a head with hair
Long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming,
Streaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me down to there
Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy
Hair, hair, hair,
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
My hair

Then the cutting began. People held a lock, made a snip and gave a blessing. I received my blessing and asked each person to cut a length of ribbon for themselves, requesting that each sight of the ribbon move them to pray for my healing, the healing of New Orleans, the planet and all those who suffer.

The blessings ran from heart-rending pleas for my safety to humor. One friend told me, that he had just purchased a tree and was going to mulch it with my cut hair. My ex-husband reminded me of my mother’s dictum, “There’s nothing more temporary than a haircut.” Between blessings, my guests chanted the short healing prayer of Moses when his sister was stricken with disease: “El na rafana la (God please heal her).” I responded — to the blessings and to each crunch of the scissors — with tears and laughter. When the blessings were finished and my hair lay in piles on the floor, Peter, my hairdresser for 25 years, swooped down with electric clippers and completed the job.

Newly a woman with a buzz cut, I spoke about being a walking testimony for the disease of the planet. I prayed for the courage to not cover the truth in order to protect those uncomfortable with the anomaly of a bald woman and perhaps in denial about the state of the earth. I spoke of the link of my healing to the healing of my city of New Orleans and to all those who suffer.

Then we took the sheet out to the garden. And while we sang the “Misheberach,” we sprinkled the hair among the roots of my tree — to nourish it as it nourishes me. I hope a bird chooses some of my hair for a nest.

Anne Brener is an L.A.-based psychotherapist. She is the author of “Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourner’s Path” (Jewish Lights, 1993 and 2001), a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a faculty member of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Yeladim


Days of Smiles, Days of Tears

We know that Adar is a month of great joy. But there is one day, the 7th of Adar, which falls this year on March 18, when we take a small break from joy. On this day, Moses was born; he died on this day exactly 120 years later, but his burial place is unknown. Some Jews fast on this day.
Linking Jewish present to past, Israel has instituted a public memorial ceremony on this day for soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces who have not yet been brought to burial (the unknown soldier). This annual memorial takes place at Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem.

Wonderful Women

March 8, was International Women’s Day. Who are these famous Jewish women?

1. She was born in Jerusalem in 1981 and moved to New York, but paid a visit to the planet Naboo. 2. She was born Oct. 29, 1971, with the last name of Horowitz. 3. She was born in Russia, moved to Wisconsin and then made the Holy Land her home.

Purim is just around the corner!

Send Purim baskets this Sunday, March 20, at 2pm, at the Zimmer Museum.
Fill them with candies and hamentaschen!
Give them to your friends (and save a few hamentaschen for yourself).

For the Kids


Take a Leap

Let’s leap into the month of Adar! This is the month in which we are told: “The month of Adar brings great joy!” That is because Purim, a very joyous holiday, begins on the 14th of Adar. So, get into the spirit everybody and jump for joy!

Now don’t leap to conclusions!

If you were born on Feb. 29th, 1980, how old would you be this coming Feb. 29, 2004? (Leap years happened in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000.)

What’s the Connection?

After you find the words, try to put all the facts
together. What did John Holland invent? Who is Mario Andretti? Who are Graham
Nash and Jimmy Dorsey? You may need to ask your parents and/or the Internet for
some help. Send your answers with what these guys all have in common to abbygilad@yahoo.com

.

Off the Page

“Dave at Night” is an adventurous book based on Gail Carson Levine’s father’s life. Dave’s parents die and nobody wants him to live with them. Dave is placed in a cold, disgusting Jewish orphanage filled with obnoxious teachers. If you would like to find out what happens to Dave, read “Dave at Night.” — review by Yonatan Isaacs & Benjamin Rostami, sixth grade, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy

If you have a Jewish book you would like us to know
about, review it and send it to abbygilad@yahoo.com .