Esther Re-enactment Takes Whole Megilla in O.C.

Incense burned, rose petals fluttered, Persian entrees simmered and Persian slippers were sewn. That was the scene at University Synagogue as congregants re-enacted Queen Esther’s wedding during this year’s Purim celebration. The event was the trademark approach of director Heidi Jo Kahn, whose approach to religious school teaching is a blur of sensory stimulation.

"I know everyone learns in a different way," says Kahn, 43, who describes her own religious training in South Africa’s Cape Town as dull memorization.

From among the county’s estimated 200 religious school teachers, Kahn’s creative approach earned her special recognition: the $2,500 Grinspoon-Steinhardt, Bernard and Mildred Kessler Award. In the third annual presentation of the "excellence in Jewish education" awards, local education bureaus recognized about 40 teachers nationally.

Award money comes partly from the New York-based Jewish Education Service with the remainder offered locally. In this instance, from long-time religious school teachers Bernie and Mildred Kessler, of Rossmoor.