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.

Photos by Jonathan Fong

Make a joyful noise (maker) for Purim


One of the highlights of any Purim celebration is the waving of noisemakers, or groggers, every time Haman’s name is mentioned during the Megillah reading. It’s a fun way to “boo” him and drown out his name.

Part of your pre-Purim festivities can be making your own noisemakers. They’re easy to assemble, with just a few supplies you probably already have around the house.   

What you’ll need:

– 2 small paper plates
– Plastic fork or spoon
– Duct or packing tape
– Dried beans
– Stapler
– Decorating materials

1. With duct or packing tape, secure a plastic fork or spoon to a small paper plate so that most of the utensil’s handle extends past the rim of the plate. This will serve as the handle of the noisemaker.

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2. Add about 10 dried beans to the plate. These beans, when shaken, will create the noise. Instead of beans, you also can use any small objects such as pennies, screws, jelly beans, paper clips — see what you have handy.

purim2

3. Place your second paper plate upside down on top of the first one. Staple the edges so that the beans do not slide out. Make sure to staple the area around the handle, as the space between the two plates is biggest there.

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4. Now decorate the noisemaker however you wish. You can wrap it with paper, as shown in the example, or cover it with duct tape, stickers or felt. You even can draw on it with markers or crayons. Finish it with a ribbon at the base. Customize one for everybody at the celebration, and get ready to make a whole lot of noise.

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Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself  projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

How to Jew Purim


Saturday, March 11, to Sunday, March 12

BACKGROUND

Purim, celebrated every year on the 14th of Adar, commemorates how Jews living in the fourth century Persian Empire pre-empted a plot by the evil prime minister, Haman, to have them all killed. Haman — angered by the refusal of a Jew named Mordecai to bow down to him — persuaded the Persian ruler, King Ahasuerus, to issue a decree calling for the extermination of the Jews on the 13th of Adar, a date Haman had chosen in a lottery. (“Purim” is Persian for “lots.”)

Mordecai heard of the plot and appealed to his cousin, Esther, who the king had selected as his wife in a beauty contest, not knowing she was Jewish. Esther held a feast at which she revealed to Ahasuerus that she was a Jew and persuaded him to reverse the decree. The king then had Haman and his 10 sons hanged from the gallows, and named Mordecai prime minister. A new decree was then issued allowing the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies. When the 13th of Adar arrived, the Jews struck back against those enemies. They celebrated their accomplishment on the 14th of Adar.

TRADITIONS

The day before Purim is a day of fasting to commemorate the Fast of Esther — her three days of fasting before the feast. This year, because Purim is on Shabbat, the fast is observed on March 9 from dawn till dusk.

Traditionally, the Megillah (the Book of Esther) is read twice — on the night of Purim and on Purim day. During the often boisterous reading, the congregation makes noise with groggers and yells “Boo!” at every mention of Haman’s name. Purim also is a special time to dress up in costumes. Many synagogues and community centers have carnivals, parties and humorous skits or shows called Purim spiels.

Other aspects of the holiday involve giving gifts or providing acts of charity. One such tradition is to give a basket of treats, or mishloach manot, to neighbors, friends or members of the community. It’s also a custom to donate money to at least two needy people as part of a tradition called matanot l’evyonim.

SPECIAL FOODS

Jews enjoy the holiday with hamantashen — triangular pastries typically filled with fruit preserves — that, according to one legend, are symbols of Haman’s three-sided hat. Some celebrations include a special Purim challah, which is bigger than the usual bread and made with more braids to symbolize the rope with which Haman was hanged. Another holiday food is kreplach, dumplings filled with meat.

— Kylie Ora Lobell, Contributing Writer

Sources: Chabad.org, MyJewishLearning

Purim poser: What is our fascination with villains?


Who is the Haman in your life? The person, who like the bad guy in the Megillah Esther that we read on Purim, schemes to bring you down.

When we get to the place in the Megillah where Haman is forced to lead Mordechai though the streets of Shushan, saying, “This is what is done for the man whom the king desires to honor,” might we insert ourselves — like a video game — into an updated version of the story? Imagining that a seriously negative person in our life is pushing our car down the street while we sit behind the wheel and wave?

Not that your neighbor is Lord Voldemort or Dr. Moriarty, but what about that boss who is omitting your name from the organization chart? The relative who always leaves you off the guest list? That student spray-painting swastikas on your son’s fraternity house? Or just the forever interrupting “Rachel” from cardholder services?

If we could only rid ourselves of them, then “Oh, today would merry, merry be.”

Or would it?

In the Purim story, we have sweet Esther, wise Mordechai and foolish Ahashveras — a pretty light cast of characters until the heavy, Haman, adds the contrast of evil and stirs the action.

Beginning with childhood, we intuitively understand how boring fairy tales would be without the witch, and in Oz, Dorothy would have no one to resist surrendering to.

On Purim, Haman is the name we are supposed to blot out, yet clearly his name remains written in our minds. Could it be that in our own life stories, we need someone to mix it up with in order to progress? Does that explain our fascination, even attraction, to villains?

Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” tells us that the “crown of a good name is superior to all.” So why do we seem so at ease with those who wear a black hat — and I don’t mean the haredim.

We hate what Gordon Gecko of “Wall Street” stands for, but why do we know what he had to say about greed? Is it that we like to see the bad guy get his comeuppance, or do we just like seeing him coming up? Either way, the series finale of “Breaking Bad,” featuring the high school chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine dealing anti-hero Walter White, was watched by over 10 million viewers.

In sports, when our team’s archrival comes to town, we get tickets to watch our heroes trounce the villains. But as we boo when their stars come to the plate, make a late hit or a flagrant foul, we hate them while at the same time understanding that without those bums, the fun would fade.

In some of our favorite computer games, like “Grand Theft Auto,” we can even act out the ways of the villain. Watching my adult sons play one day, I was surprised to see how readily they took on the role of the evil protagonist. Trying it myself, driving my stolen car down the streets of Santa Monica, I soon became a regular Haman on Wheels, threatening the extinction of an entire population of pedestrians. Was that me grinning as I “accidentally” backed up over a man on the sidewalk?

In Jewish texts, beginning with the snake in the Garden of Eden, we are tempted by the promises of the villain. At Passover, as we take a drop of wine for each plague, the heart-hardened Pharaoh fills our seder tables, though afterward we ease the tension by singing about “frogs in his bed.”

In synagogue, the words of the sorcerer Bil’am, who the rabbis called “harasha,” “the wicked,” even begins our prayers with the words “Mah tovu,” “How goodly.”

At Hanukkah, without the severe decrees of King Antiochus, we would not only be minus a dilemma in December but a holiday, too.

The biblical anti-hero calls to us as well. In discussions about the Torah portion Korach, which is named for the man who rebels against the authority of Moses, I sometimes find it easy to take his side. Wasn’t he just a misunderstood nonconformist?

And though I first heard the story of the Golem as a child, I am still confused: Was the Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague’s monster of mud hero or villain? Or a little of both?

The truth is that in villains we see a little of ourselves. An idea in Jewish thought is that we are all born with both an evil inclination, “Yetzer hara,” and a good one, “Yetzer hatov.” Does this internal duality connect us to Haman? Perhaps for the part of our psyches that conjures up ways to wipe out opposition before we consider how wrong it is.

In terms of reconciling the villain inside, thankfully most of don’t have Darth Vader as a dad. But we do imagine, and even know, what we look like in black. And on Purim, if you put a light saber in our hands, even if it is a toy, we know that somehow the force wouldn’t be any fun without the bad.

(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him atedmojace@gmail.com.)

On Purim, answering to a higher grogger


On Purim, can we really blot out the memory of an evil like Haman, who threatened our very existence, with a noisemaker?

When in a popular Purim song we sing “Hava narishah-rash, rash, rash,” “Wind your noisemakers,” all that “rashing” does momentarily make the darkness go away. But in what direction do we turn as we step into the light?

It’s not that the sound is supposed to make us entirely forget Haman. In fact Purim, which this year begins at sundown March 15, is the time of year when Jews are supposed to remember what we have been told to forget. On Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance — the Shabbat before Purim — we read in the concluding Torah reading (Deuteronomy 25: 17-19), “You shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

Why the blot out?

The Torah reading explains that while the Israelites were on the march in the wilderness, the Amalek attacked “when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.” On Purim, when reading from the Book of Esther and Haman’s name is mentioned, that’s what all the noise is about. Haman is considered a descendant of the Amalek, and when we hear his name, with groggers and noisemakers of every design, we attempt to symbolically blot it out.

Works for kids, but what about adults?

Since something in my hand that ratchets, clanks or booms at least aurally gets my attention, I pulled a couple of groggers off my bookshelves to hear if they would wake me up to anything else, like the mitzvah associated with Purim of helping the hungry. I gave a colorfully painted wooden one a twist. It would drown out Haman, but its sound didn’t ring any dinner bells. I gave a paper-mache Haman head on a stick with some rice inside a shake — it was cute but empty mouthed, and a hamantashen-shaped grogger — left me hungry for something more.

I wondered if I could find a better blotter.

The custom of making noise when Haman’s name is mentioned, according to an article titled “Are Jews Still Commanded to Blot Out the Memory of Amalek,” by Rabbi David Golinkin of the Schetcher Institute, goes back to around 1200. Citing a midrash that says “blot out the memory of Amalek even from the trees and the stones,” he suggests that in France to act this out, children took smooth stones to write “Haman” on them. During the reading of the Megillah, at the mention of his name, they knocked the stones together to erase it.

Since it’s not hard to imagine the result of having kids in synagogue with a couple of river rocks to smash together, a simple noisemaker seems to be a reasonable simulacrum for them.

For the big kids, some of us try blotting out with food and other substances. Munching a hamantaschen, which represents Haman’s tri-cornered hat, and downing a shot or two is an easy and tasty way to eliminate his image.

In my 20s, to faithfully observe the blotting mitzvah, I baked some pot into a batch of hamantashen; prune, as I recall. But since that’s about all that I remember from the evening, I may have over-blotted.

Generally speaking, the past blots out itself without our help. The harder part is to remember what to do about it today. What I needed to move toward some kind of Purim-centered social action was a grogger that also was a jogger of memory.

Getting back to those two stones, I needed a noisemaker that would rub two ideas together, erasing my feelings of ambivalence and waking me up to an important Jewish concept.

Several U.S. synagogues have turned the grogger into a reminder about the hungry. They ask their congregants to bring boxes of macaroni and cheese to the Megillah reading so they can shake them when Haman’s name is read, and afterward donate them to a food bank. Adding a little sweetness, or even pleasure, I figured a box of Good & Plenty or can of coffee beans would work, too.

You can also bang two ideas together — that of blotting out Haman and wastefulness — by using the grogger as a reminder to recycle. Use an empty soda can to which you have added a few dried beans or coins for tzedakah.

An organization called Fair Trade Judaica sells a wooden grogger, handmade in India, that gives Purim noisemaking a social action twist. The groggers are made in workshops organized by a group called the Shilpa Trust that works with economically and educationally disadvantaged artisans. The trust, according to the site, “provides artisans with children’s educational assistance, free health check-ups, social security insurance, a loan program, skill training and product development.”

Helping to blot out poverty, while making me remember it, this is a grogger that would give others a turn.

(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@gmail.com.)

Haman’s fall: Diaspora dreams in the Biblical Book of Esther


Even if you’re a serious student of the Bible, you might not know what the Book of Esther is doing there, in the Bible. Don’t worry though, nobody else knows either. Although it tells of near-tragedy, it is written melodramatically, almost as a farce; and it is very hard to read with a straight face. It tells how the exiled Jewish people that had been living peacefully in the Persian Empire were saved by Queen Esther from a genocidal plot designed by an evil minister named Haman. The story and its style are altogether out of keeping with the other texts canonized as the Bible. In fact, God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther even once.

We want to suggest two ways of reading Esther that may help explain its awkwardness and make it more palatable. One focuses on its message, the other on its medium. Before tampering with the book’s message, it should be noted that it forms part of a section of the Scriptures known as the “five scrolls,” the other scrolls being the Books of Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes and Lamentations. There appears to be a common denominator to these books, aside from their being very short:  each of them has a special interest in Diaspora. Together they seem designed to raise questions about the appropriate response to living in the Diaspora.

Diasporas pose the dilemma of relating, at one and the same time, to an often hostile “host” society and to the collective memory of a homeland. The Five Scrolls—separately and together—are an invitation to consider that delicate balance. They offer four generic responses: Return, Remain, Revenge and Take-Over (or Rule).  We call them Diaspora Dreams. One is the desire to return to one’s homeland. A second is the wish to remain in the Diaspora. The third is a determination to take revenge on usurpers of the homeland, or oppressors abroad. The fourth is the ambition to take over, or rule, the place where one finds oneself.

Of the Five Scrolls, Esther fascinates most because it provides particular insight into diasporic Dreams. It contains three of the four dreams, Remain, Revenge, Take-over—completely leaving out the most obvious Diaspora dream: Return. Unquestionably, Remain is the predominant Dream in Esther, along with Revenge and Take-over. It is not hard to guess why stories of defamation, dire threat, and its reversal should appeal to Diaspora Jewish communities. It’s a fantasy of deliverance without—or maybe with—the assistance of a miracle.

Living under a King’s protection has been a pattern of the Jewish Diaspora for centuries and so the story fits all too well. Over the years, there is a long list of tyrants who qualify for the part of Haman. Not all of them begin with the letter H, and not all of them preside over Persia. Some do. But all are doomed to fall. More broadly, Esther’s message is that normalcy, even if abnormally achieved, is a worthy dream.

Yet as noted above, Esther’s narrative and style is anything but normal, at least by biblical standards. Unlike others of the canonic texts, it celebrates its heroes and its villains in carnavalesque style, and sets the mood for the fun and games and occasional debauchery which mark the Purim holiday.  Indeed, the Esther story has been continually performed as a play (purim spiel) in European Jewish history.

In this spirit, we noticed that the verb “to fall” appears in the text, both literally and metaphorically, with seemingly exaggerated frequency, as if to call attention to a hidden message. The preponderance of “Falling” and “bowing” prompted us to search for other gestural or postural verbs in the text, and thus we found numerous other verbs such as “to rise,” “to sit,” “to mount.” Along with “fall,” these other jerky movements—bowing, prostrating, standing, mounting (a horse)—activate the text, giving the Book a vaudevillesque quality. That, in turn, led us to consider another wild possibility, namely, that the Book was originally performed as a puppet play, in which jerky up-and-down movements on the vertical axis are the dominant pattern.

This possibly preposterous suggestion would explain why Esther is so different in its literary style from the other books of Bible—an observation posed on top—and so fitting to be performed as a Purim Spiel. For it was integrated into the bible as the script of puppet show or a play—not of the dreams of a prophet or the musings of a sage.

But extending the notion of Esther as puppet show may also explain a crucial component of the meaning of Diaspora and the nature of its dreams. God, we noted on top, is conspicuously absent from the book of Esther. But should the story of Esther indeed be the script of a puppet show, that absence would actually be an overwhelming behind-the-scene presence: God would be the puppeteer.

In biblical thought, God dwells in his city, in his temple. With the exile of his people from that Temple and city, God too, in kabalistic thought, goes into exile. Once the Jews are in Diaspora, God is no longer present in the material world, and the “shchina” goes into exile (“gallut ha-shchina”). The deity of the Diaspora is the puppeteer pulling the strings, but never visible. The Diaspora dream of Remain is expecting God to bring redemption from behind, or rather above, the lively scene.

Obama conference call with rabbis covers education, the meaning of the shofar, support for Israel


Barack Obama told a conference call of rabbis this morning that he supports government funding for after-school and mentoring programs in faith-based schools.

Speaking to 900 rabbis on a pre-Rosh Hashanah call, Obama said he opposes “vouchers” for private schools, but would continue to support funding, as is currently provided in the No Child Left Behind law, for after-school, tutoring, mentoring and summer programs at private and religious schools, according to a press release from the Orthodox Union and other rabbis who participated in the call.

Participants said Obama talked about a number of issues and took four questions from leaders of the four major denominations during the more than 40 minutes he spent on the call. The economy, education, energy, Israel and Iran were among the topics he discussed, reiterating the “unacceptability” of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

With the call coming less than two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, the Democratic nominee wished the group “Shanah Tovah.” He also discussed how the shofar raises people from “slumber” to “set out on a better path” and how he hoped his campaign could do the same, according to rabbis on the call.

Rabbi Sam Gordon, who introduced Obama and serves as co-chair of “Rabbis for Obama,” said he believed that a presidential candidate speaking to hundreds of rabbis was “unprecedented” during a political campaign, and that Obama showed an impressive “depth of knowledge” — at one point referring to the largest modern Orthodox high school in Chicago by name, the Ida Crown Academy, when discussing faith-based schools.

The one complaint about the call was the speech of the other rabbi introducing Obam by Elliot Dorff, vice chair of the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards and a professor at the American Jewish University (AJU). One rabbi who did not wish to be identified said Dorff’s speech was “way too partisan” and the Orthodox Union’s blog said Dorff essentially compared John McCain to Haman.

The Obama campaign has released portions of his remarks on the call:

“I know that for rabbis this is the busiest time of the year as you prepare for the High Holy Days. So I am grateful for a few minutes of your time. I extend my New Years greetings to you and to your congregations and communities. I want to wish everybody a Shana Tovah and I hope that you will convey my wishes to all of those you pray and celebrate with this Rosh Hashanah.

The Jewish New Year is unlike the new years of any other cultures. In part because it’s not simply a time for revelry; it’s a time for what might be called determined rejoicing. A time to put your affairs with other people in order so you can honestly turn to God. A time to recommit to the serious work of tikkun olamof mending the world.”

Senator Obama noted the significance of the Shofar in our lives for Rosh Hashanah and beyond, stating:

“And I know that the Shofar is going to be blown in your synagogues over Rosh Hashanah and there are many interpretations of its significance. One that I have heard that resonates with me is rousing us from our slumber so that we recognize our responsibilities and repent for our misdeeds and set out on a better path. The people in every community across this land join our campaign and I like to think that they are sounding that Shofar and to rouse this nation out of its slumber and to compel us to confront our challenges and ensure a better path. It’s a call to action. So as this New Year dawns, I am optimistic about our ability to overcome the challenges we face and the opportunity that we can bring the change we need not only to our nation but also to the world.”

Barack Obama also stated the need for leadership in both our troubled economy and foreign policy. Speaking of his recent trip to Israel and his unwavering commitment to the US-Israel relationship and Israel’s security, he noted: “I think that it’s also important to recognize that throughout my career in the State Legislature and now in the U.S. Senate I have been a stalwart friend of Israel. On every single issue related to Israel’s security, I have been unwavering, and will continue to be unwavering. My belief is that Israel’s security is sacrosanct and we have to ensure that as the soul democracy in the Middle East, one of our greatest allies in the world, one that shares a special relationship with us and shares our values, we have to make sure that they have the support whether its financial or military to sustain their security and the hostile environment. And its also important that we are an effective partner with them in pursuing the possibilities of peace in the future, and that requires not only active engagement and negotiations that may take place with Palestinians but it also requires that we stand tough and with great clarity when it comes to Iran and the unacceptability of them possessing nuclear weapons. During my recent visit to Israel, I had the occasion to meet with all of the major political players. That was my second visit there and I think that they all came away with assurance of my commitment with respect to Israel”

Get a Life, George


I’ve watched few “Seinfeld” episodes, but one stands out in my mind. During a double date, George inadvertently offends Jerry’s date, Jody. After George learns from Jerry that Jody doesn’t like him, George falls all over himself for a second chance to make a good impression.

After George does further damage to his reputation, he sits in Monk’s obsessing about Jody to his date Karen, who’s annoyed that George is focusing so much attention on another woman.

“Who cares if she doesn’t like you? Does everybody in the world have to like you?” Karen asks.

“Yes! Yes! Everybody has to like me. I must be liked!” George yells.

Sure, we laugh at George as that typical nebbish. But there’s a little bit of George in each and every one of us.

We are all a little too dependent on others’ approval and admiration. This is not only psychologically unhealthy, but it also may show that one doesn’t feel close with God.

Consider that there are no less than three different views of oneself: The view that I have of myself, the view that others have of me and the view that God has of me.

Which view is most important? Most of us would probably place God’s view as highest priority, our own view as second priority and the view of others as lowest priority. But when it bothers us that another holds us in low esteem, aren’t we displaying that both our own view and God’s view take a back seat to our neighbor’s view?

A medieval rabbi by the name of Yaavatz gave an analogy: Say a person has two diamonds. One is a polished, flawless 7-karat masterpiece, valued at $1 million. The other is an unpolished, flawed, 1-karat diamond, valued at a few-hundred dollars. If I lose the 1-karat diamond, my grief will be short-lived, because I know that I’ve still got my $1 million diamond.

The way others perceive us, compared to the way God perceives us, is like the inexpensive diamond compared to the expensive diamond. This is why a spiritual person tends not to spend so much time checking his public approval rating. Instead, working on God’s approval is what really matters.

We can learn a lot from a guy named Haman about dependency upon others’ approval. According to the story that we read on Purim, when Haman would walk down the street, everyone was ordered to bow down in deference. Yet, the Megillah tells us, Mordechai would not prostrate or bow (Esther 3:2). This annoyed Haman to no end (I think his last name was Constanza). Because of Haman’s obsession with image, he decided that it wasn’t enough to just execute Mordechai; he had to wipe out the entire Jewish people.

The Haman story teaches us a very important lesson in human nature. Our obsession with image is a destructive trait, and it can lead perfectly decent people to completely lose their moral compass.

On the other hand, we can also learn a lot from Mordechai about healthy attitudes about self-image. Note that Mordechai did what he felt was right in his eyes and in God’s eyes. It simply wasn’t right to bow before this self-absorbed Haman, and so Mordechai refused to kowtow. He didn’t worry about the consequences to himself or the way people would judge him. He knew right was right no matter what anyone else thought.

Human frailty is something funny when we see people on TV like George on “Seinfeld” displaying it. But it’s disappointing when we see our close friends display this kind of insecurity. It’s even scarier when we look in the mirror and see the false facades we’ve created staring back at us. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why we wear masks on Purim: to remind ourselves that it’s what behind the mask that counts, not the way others see us.

In La-La Land, we are told that image is everything. People gauge success and self-worth by whether or not they are placed on the A-list of invited guests to the latest Hollywood party. Purim is a time to acknowledge the masquerade for what it is: a cheap mask that says nothing about the real me.

May we succeed in destroying all enemies of our people, both the external Haman’s and our own internal ones.

Happy Purim!

Rabbi Daniel N. Korobkin is rosh kehilla of Yavneh in Hancock Park and director of community and synagogue services for the Orthodox Union.

 

Yeladim


 

We read the story of Queen Esther, Megillat Esther, twice – on Thursday evening and Friday morning. Let’s see if you know the story.

Put the parts in the right order.

__Mordechai tells Esther Haman’s plan.

__Mordechai will not bow to Haman. Haman decides to kill all the Jews on Adar.

__4. Mordechai saves the kings life by overhearing and exposing a plot to kill him.

__Haman is hanged along with his 10 sons.

__Vashti is canned. Esther becomes the new queen.

__Queen Vashti refuses to show up at the party.

__On the 13th day of Adar, the Jews outside the city of Shushan defend themselves. They win! They celebrate their victory on the 14th of Adar. That day becomes the holiday of Purim.

__The king can’t sleep. He reads his diary and remembers that Mordechai saved his life.

__Esther risks her life by going to Ahasuerus uninvited. She invites him and Haman to a banquet.

__At the banquet, Esther reveals that she is a Jew and that Haman wants to kill her people.

__King Ahasuerus throws a party.

__9. Haman visits the king. Ahasuerus calls Haman to take Mordechai around town in royal robes, riding a white horse.)

Now that you have put the story in order, find the hidden word by locating the letter in each sentence that matches the number below. (Hint: In the fourth sentence, the 11th letter is A.)

–  –  –  – –  –  –  – –  –  – –

6 7 2 1 1 1 2 1 2 4 1 2

 

Purim Pastries


Purim, sometimes called the Feast of Esther, is one of the happiest of all Jewish holidays. It marks the liberation of the Jews from the cruel prime minister, Haman, through the heroism of the beautiful and good Queen Esther. The story states that she was a vegetarian while in the king’s court in ancient Persia. Yes, before it was the fashion, Queen Esther was a connoisseur of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, but poppy seeds were said to be her favorite. It is in her honor that on Purim, poppy seeds find their way into salads, kugels and pastries.

Hamantaschen are the traditional dessert served on Purim. These three-cornered pastries represent Haman’s hat, pockets or ears, depending on which tale your bubbe told you. These delicious confections are served throughout Purim. They can be filled with a variety of mixtures, apricot, prune, or even peanut butter and jelly, but on Purim the preference is unequivocally poppy seeds. The hamantaschen recipes that I have included are my creations. One is based on a rich poppy seed cookie dough, flavored with orange peel. The other uses filo pastry as a wrapper for the fillings. After baking and while hot, a sugar syrup is poured over them, similar to the technique used for the Persian pastries called baklava.

When baking for Purim don’t forget the ancient tradition of mishloach manot, which suggests that we share the holiday foods with the community. Arrange a batch of assorted hamantaschen in a pretty box or basket to take to friends and also share with others. You’ll enjoy both the good deed and the compliments you receive.

Poppy Seed Hamantaschen

1/4 pound unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, softened

1/2 cup sugar; 3 eggs; Grated zest of 1 orange; 2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder; 1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon poppy seeds; 3 8-oz. cans poppy seed filling or variety of fillings (recipes follow)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until well blended. Beat in two of the eggs and the orange zest, blending thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds and blend until dough is smooth.

Transfer to floured board and divide dough into three or four portions for easier handling. Flatten each portion with the palm of your hand and roll it out 1/4-inch thick. With a scalloped or plain cookie cutter, cut into 3-inch rounds. Place one heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each round. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of the filling visible in the center. Pinch the edges to seal them.

Place hamantaschen 1/2 inch apart on a lightly greased foil-lined baking sheet and brush with the remaining egg, lightly beaten. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to racks to cool. Makes 5 to 6 dozen.

Filo Hamantaschen

1/2 pound unsalted butter or nondairy margarine

1/4 cup oil; 1 package (1 lb.) filo sheets; 2 cups finely ground

almonds; 1/4 cup sugar; variety of fillings (recipes follow)

Honey-Sugar Syrup (recipe follows)

Heat butter and oil over low heat in medium saucepan. Place a damp towel on work area and cover with wax paper. Work with one sheet of filo at a time, keeping the remaining filo covered with wax paper and damp towel.

Combine almonds and sugar and set aside. Cut standard sheets of filo evenly into 2-inch strips. Work with each strip on top of a large sheet of wax paper placed on top of damp kitchen towel. Brush them with butter mixture and sprinkle with almond mixture. Place teaspoon of filling 1-inch from the short edge of each strip. Fold one corner over the filling. Fold up filo, flag fashion, in a triangle along its length to make a neat triangular package. Repeat with remaining strips and filling.

Brush baking sheets with butter mixture; place hamantaschen on baking sheets, 1/2-inch apart. Brush with butter mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven and spoon syrup over each triangle. Cool on racks. Makes about 6 dozen.

Honey-Sugar Syrup

1 cup sugar; 1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon lemon juice; 1 tablespoon honey

Bring sugar, water and lemon juice to boil in heavy saucepan, stirring with wooden spoon until sugar dissolves. Boil briskly for five minutes. Stir in honey. Pour into heatproof pitcher.

Fillings for Hamantaschen

Apricot-Coconut Filling; 2 cups apricot preserves; 1/2 cup

shredded coconut; 1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts or pecans

Grated peel of 1 lemon

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Makes about 3 cups.

Chocolate Filling; 1 cup cocoa; 1 cup sugar; 1/2 cup milk, cream

or coffee; 2 cups toasted chopped almonds

In a large bowl, combine the cocoa, sugar, milk and almonds and blend thoroughly. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

Caramel-Pecan Filling; 3/4 cup sugar; 1/4 cup water; 2 cups

toasted chopped pecans; 7 tablespoons margarine; 1/2 cup

nondairy creamer; 1/4 cup honey

In heavy saucepan, bring sugar and water to boil, mixing with wooden spoon until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add pecans, margarine and nondairy creamer. Return to heat, stirring constantly, and simmer for 10 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat and stir in honey.

Transfer to ovenproof glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set. This will keep for at least one week.

Applesauce Filling; 6 golden or red delicious apples, peeled,

cored and cut into chunks ; Juice of 1 lemon; 2 to 3 tablespoons

sugar; 1/2-inch cinnamon stick or pinch of ground cinnamon

In a large saucepan, toss the apples and lemon juice. Add sugar and cinnamon. Cover and cook slowly until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and mash or puree the mixture. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill. Makes about 4 cups.

Quick Prune Filling; 1 15-ounce jar cooked pitted prunes,

drained, or 2 cups pitted stewed prunes; 1/4 cup sugar; 1/2 cup

toasted chopped walnuts or pecans; 1 teaspoon orange juice;

1 teaspoon lemon juice

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Our Purim Story


Our family’s Esther was an 11-year-old girl, a petite and doe-eyed child with a profound sense of physical and temperamental modesty. She attended a large urban middle school, and this was her first year moving from class to class, her first year of boy-ask-girl school dances, her first year changing clothes in a locker room.

This story’s Haman was an unlikely candidate — another 11-year-old girl named Nadine, loud and brassy, who towered over our Esther. While other girls in the locker room self-consciously changed to gym clothes, hastily and with eyes cast down, Nadine undressed with a striptease, exposing herself to others when the P.E. teacher was out of sight, and commenting on other girls’ bodies.

Nadine’s behavior shocked her classmates. Too embarrassed to react, they responded with silence, and since Nadine mistook silence for consent, things became even worse. Over time, she began to make obvious sexual advances towards others, including our Esther, and began to touch and fondle smaller girls. She would shove littler kids into corners and onto the floor, trying to grope their bodies, loudly singing provocative rap melodies all the while.

The more disturbing Nadine’s behavior became, the deeper her classmates’ silence grew. There seemed to be nowhere to turn and no one to talk to, since the teacher patrolled the locker room only to hustle kids out to the playing field. And not one child wanted to confront the disturbed girl for fear of drawing attention to herself.

One evening, however, while taking a bath, our Esther called out to her mother for a towel. Her mother knocked on the door, and discovered her child sitting in a tub full of water, fully clothed, rubbing soap over herself and weeping.

“Mommy,” said our Esther, “I’m going to dress for bed, and then I have a story to tell you.”

Esther’s terrible tale did not come out all at once. Her story was revealed slowly and with reluctance, because victims are just as fearful of going to an authority — even a loving one — as the Biblical Esther was of approaching her king and husband. Only bit by bit did the truth come out that evening, like peeling the brittle, clinging layers of an onion skin to find something below that can only bring tears to your eyes.

We trembled with rage and pain for our child, and our first impulse was to act the part of Ahashuerus by publicly humiliating Nadine, and then hanging her from a high gallows. Instead we decided to be our Esther’s Mordechai, true counselors and friends.

To this Esther we said, “Let’s put an end to this problem first thing tomorrow morning. We will go together to talk to your principal and teachers.”

Our Esther demurred. “I can’t tell anyone again,” she said. “It’s too embarrassing. No one will believe me. And, when Nadine finds out who told, who knows what will happen?”

Who can argue against these truths? Each painful retelling might bring back the same horror as the experience itself, and the dangers of being disbelieved or more severely victimized were real.

On the other hand, how else to stop the terror for herself and her classmates?

Our Esther found her courage, and the next morning confronted her first Ahashuerus — a principal who immediately conducted an investigation and removed Nadine from the scene, to the jubilant relief of dozens of girls. Esther became their heroine and confidant. There were countless other Ahashueruses that followed in the weeks and months to come, administrators, teachers, police officers, and of course her classmates. Other children were emboldened, and also came forward telling similar tales to their own parents and teachers.

And what became of our little Haman, Nadine? Efforts of police and social workers revealed that several of her mother’s serial boyfriends had entertained themselves by abusing Nadine, and she was immediately removed to the safety of another home.

In the end, this is how we discover if our children have learned to redeem themselves. Indeed, the truest therapy for this Esther has been knowing that she spoke out not only to save herself, but also to save her classmates, and even to save Haman.


Lisa Morgan writes on Jewish family issues in Los Angeles. All names, including the author’s, have been changed.

Baskets Full of Joy


When the Jews of ancient Persia celebrated their unlikely salvation from Haman with gifts of food to each other, they probably didn’t go for the tropical-themed basket with gummy fish, rock candy and dried papaya, wrapped in a sweep of turquoise cellophane.

Clearly, the holiday custom of exchanging gifts of food, called by the Hebrew term mishloach manot [MEESH-lo-ach MAN-oat] has changed with the times.

But even in L.A., where fulfilling the Purim mitzvah has been raised to new levels, the basic idea behind mishloach manot remains the same: to promote a joyous spirit of friendship and unity among a scattered nation.

Mishloach manot is one of four mitzvot of Purim, along with charity to the poor (matanot la’evyonim), holding a festive meal (seudah) and reading the Megillah. The fulfillment of mishloach manot requires sending to one person, on Purim day, a gift of two ready-to-eat foods with different brachot, blessings.

Rabbi Avrohom Czapnik, director of the Jewish Learning Exchange and assistant principal at Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn-Toras Emes, says the unity and friendship that results when we exchange gifts is a theme central to the Purim story.

When getting approval for his evil plot from King Achashverosh, Haman refers to the Jewish people as a nations scattered and dispersed among the other nations.

“This was a spiritual indictment. You don’t have unity, and therefore we have the ability to conquer you,” Czapnik explains. Esther’s response, then, was to create a greater sense of Jewish unity by telling Mordechai to gather all the Jewish people to fast and pray for her.