August 18, 2019

Purim, IKAR-Style

Members of IKAR Tribe, the congregation’s community of people in their 20s and 30s, turned out to “IKAR Noir: Purim Justice Carnival.” Photo by Steve Sherman Photography

Parodying “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” in a video segment, IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous pretends she is too sick to work. After her husband and children wish her well and head out, she wanders around her blissfully empty home in her bathrobe before calling L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who actually is sick at home.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” Brous says into the camera. 

A couple of scenes later, Brous and Garcetti are dancing to the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” on location at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Garcetti in Wayfarer sunglasses and a hockey jersey — a ringer for Ferris’ BFF Cameron — partying like it’s, well, 1986.

Welcome to the spirited “IKAR Noir: Purim Justice Carnival,” where people drank, danced, listened to the Megillah and enjoyed a humorous Purim spiel.

The Mid-City-based IKAR held its Purim party at Candela La Brea on March 20, one of several Purim events happening around the city, from Pico-Robertson to Pico-Union, that evening.

This being IKAR, an egalitarian, social justice-oriented spiritual community, many wore politically left-leaning costumes. Brous was dressed as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. IKAR Founder and CEO Melissa Balaban wore an all-white ensemble, an homage to the Democratic women in the 116th Congress. And a 20-something wore a sign around his neck that read, “Bro, do you even know who my father is?” Asked what he was supposed to be, he said, “A culturally appropriating frat boy.”

Some left politics behind, if only for one night. IKAR Cantor Hillel Tigay was dressed as “The Dude,” Jeff Bridges’ character from “The Big Lebowski,” shaggy hair, bushy beard, robe, flannel pants and all. 

Partygoers at the bar attempted to fulfill the Purim tradition of getting drunk enough to not know the difference between the cursed Haman and the blessed Mordecai. Stacked in a pile on a nearby table were nonperishable food items, noisy enough to be used as groggers during the Megillah reading and to be donated to SOVA food pantry after the party.

The reading of the Megillah was interwoven with a video spoof of the documentaries about the botched Fyre Festival, the “luxury music festival” that never was. In IKAR’s video, people were planning Trybe Fest, where the challah was a couple of lousy pieces of matzo, there was not enough tefillin to go around and organizers faced more problems than the folks behind the latest Women’s March.

“So You Think Shushan Dance,” a live parody of the televised competition show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” followed. Stage right, a row of judges, including Brous, critiqued dance moves by actress Ayla Barreau, who portrayed Vashti.

After the spiel, volunteers cleared chairs for a dance floor. Attendee Jeremy Yanofsky, a congregant of Adat Ari El in Valley Village, wandered around the room, looking lost.

Yanofsky, one of the few to follow the noir theme, was dressed as a gumshoe detective, complete with overcoat and fedora. He literally followed the commandment of Purim and made an effort to turn his own world upside down. 

The 35-year-old drove all the way from the Valley to experience Purim in a new environment. “I just wanted to try something different,” he said.

Hamantashen

Flip Haman’s hat upside down
And it’s the symbol for birth
Filled with the fruit of life and yummy jam
Purim is the evil and the good
It is the whole of our names
And the more we expand, the more layers and costumes we understand,
The more the naked God is
Revealed.

What’s Happening: ‘Persian Shabbat,’ Ben-Gurion Film and Purim

FRI MARCH 22

Cantor Phil Baron

T’Marim Sephardic Shabbat
Spend Friday night with Valley Beth Shalom artist-in-residence Asher Levy and Cantor Phil Baron. They perform historic music evoking Sephardic musical traditions from Turkey, Iran, Spain, Morocco, Syria, Egypt, Greece and Yemen. The final T’marim Sephardic Shabbat in this three-part series is May 31. 6 p.m. mezze (Sephardic appetizers), 6:30 p.m. Shabbat service. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.

“The Changing Face of American White Supremacy”
Joanna Mendelson, senior investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, is the guest speaker at Adat Ari El’s “678 Shabbat.” Mendelson explores the state of hate, the recent uptick in anti-Semitism and the newest trends in the white supremacy movement. 6 p.m. services. 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. program. $18. RSVP required. Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

“Hairspray Purim!”
The story of Esther is retold to the music of “Hairspray!” So don your favorite ’60s gear and your best drag or wig and join Kol Ami’s “1960s Shushan” Purim celebration. Rabbis Denise Eger and Max Chaiken, Kol Ami’s studio band and community members lead the festivities. The evening begins with a Persian-themed dinner at 6 p.m. 7:30 p.m., services and show. Free; $18, dinner.  Congregation Kol Ami, 1200 N. La Brea Ave., West Hollywood. (323) 606-0996.

Jackie Rafii

“Persian Shabbat”
Coinciding with the week of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Shomrei Torah Synagogue Cantorial Soloist Jackie Rafii, guitarist Daniel Raijman, violinist Jenni Asher and percussionist Ava Nahas celebrate “Persian Shabbat Around the World,” an evening of music, prayer, story and food. Persian cuisine, including gheymeh beef stew, traditional gondi balls and vegetarian ghormeh sabzi, is served. 6 p.m. services. Free. 7:15 p.m. dinner. $30 adult members, $15 kids. $36 general adults, $18 kids. Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. (818) 854-7650.

Purim at Nessah
A weekend-long Purim celebration at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills features two presentations by Rabbi Isaac Bakhshi. On Friday night, he discusses “Three Kinds of Love.” On Saturday during lunch, he discusses “The 3 A’s: Attention, Appreciation and Affection.” Friday 8:30-11:30 p.m. Saturday 1:15-4:30 p.m. $36 Friday night dinner, $20 children younger than 11. $26 Saturday lunch, $18 children younger than 11. Nessah Synagogue, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 273-2400.

“Dancing With Our Souls”
“Dancing with Our Souls,” Lev Eisha’s annual three-day women’s weekend event in the Santa Monica Mountains, features four workshops, dancing, songs, hiking, entertainment and friendship. This retreat is intended for women to explore their souls through mind and body connection. A community of Jewish women who welcome all, Lev Eisha’s Shabbat getaway is led by Rabbi Toba August and cantorial soloist Cindy Paley. Robin Winston teaches Israeli dancing and Cantor Melanie Fine performs her one-woman show, “Jewish Hidden Figures.” Leslie Geffen leads a Sunday morning photo walk. Through March 24. Various prices. Holy Spirit Retreat Center, 4316 Lanai Road, Encino. (760) 861-4791. For more information, click on the link above.

“The Purim League”
Take me out to the Purim league, take me out to the crowd. The sports-themed Kol Tikvah Purim party, “The Purim League,” features a costume parade where partygoers wear their favorite sports team gear, cheer outfit or even their own sports uniform. The evening also includes a family Shabbat service, led by Kol Tikvah clergy and the temple band Kolplay, a Megillah reading and shpiel. Enjoy a free dinner with RSVP and other activities and entertainment. All ages are invited. Please bring a new or gently used sports equipment to donate to L.A. Family Housing. 5:30-8:30 p.m. Free. Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.

SUN MARCH 24

“Purim World”
Those who want to have fun won’t want to miss Adat Ari El’s Purim party, featuring face painting, carnival games, magic shows, DJ, inflatables and a special concert by Beat Buds. 11 a.m.-3 pm. $36-$45. Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

“David Ben-Gurion: Epilogue”

“Ben-Gurion, Epilogue”
In 1968, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father, was 82 years old and living in the desert when he sat down for an introspective, soul-searching interview. The footage is the basis of “David Ben-Gurion, Epilogue,” which screens as part of Sephardic Temple’s free Sunday movie screenings series. Refreshments served. 5 p.m. Free. Sephardic Temple, 10500 Wilshire Blvd. (310) 475-7000.

Temple Judea Purim Carnival
The big rides are back at Temple Judea’s Purim Carnival, featuring rides traditionally found at carnivals, from a towering Ferris wheel to a bouncy house. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. $50 ride wristbands, $1 tickets. Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800.

“Doing Business in America”
The Jewish role in American life is spotlighted during “Doing Business in America: A Jewish History.” A panel features Hasia Diner, a professor of American Jewish history at New York University; Jonathan Karp, associate professor in the departments of Judaic studies and history at Binghamton University in New York; and Matthew Garcia, professor and chair of Latin America, Latino and Caribbean Studies at Dartmouth College. A Q-and-A follows. 4-5:30 p.m. Free. Doheny Memorial Library, 3550 Trousdale Parkway, USC campus. (213) 740-4305.

“Chassidim, Yiddishists, Socialists”
Shmuel Gonzales, aka the Barrio Boychik, leads a 3 1/2-mile walking tour of historical Jewish religious and Yiddish cultural sites of L.A.’s Eastside. The tour visits Congregation Ohel Moshe, the Soto Street Shul of the first Chasidic rebbe to settle in Los Angeles; old labor and leftist political bases of Yiddishists in the hills of City Terrace; and other Jewish sites. Noon-3 p.m. $20. Meet at the Breed Street Shul, 247 N. Breed St., Los Angeles. For more information, email shmuel.gonzales@outlook.com.

TUE MARCH 26

“Jewish Community Sing”
A community that sings together, stays together. During a free community concert at Sinai Temple, people of all ages take a journey through Israeli melodies and folk songs and sing, schmooze and learn what makes the music so beautiful. Led by composer, conductor and educator Michelle Green Willner, the participatory gathering features accompaniment by Chris Haller on bass guitar, Jeffrey Silverman on piano and Scott Breadman on drums. 8-9:30 p.m. Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.

WED MARCH 27

“God in the Voting Booth?”
Three experts convene at American Jewish University to debate religion’s role in American politics. The speakers are Rabbi Adam Greenwald, director of AJU’s Introduction to Judaism program; the Rev. Jonathan Chute of Rolling Hills United Methodist Church; and Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change. Reinhard Krauss, executive director of the Academy for Judaic, Christian and Islamic Studies, moderates. 7:30 p.m. $10. American Jewish University, Shapiro Synagogue, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1572.

THU MARCH 28

“Doing Justice”
Two of America’s leading legal personalities — Jeffrey Toobin, a CNN legal analyst and New Yorker writer; and Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York — appear in conversation. Bharara made national news when President Donald Trump fired him shortly after his inauguration because he refused to resign. He has also charged managers and employees engaged in fraud related to Holocaust reparations. He discusses his new book, “Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law,” with Toobin. 7:30 pm. $42 general admission, includes book. Robert Frost Auditorium, 4401 Elenda St., Culver City. (310) 443-9925.

Party on Purim by Stocking Your Bar With These 15 Kosher (or Kosherish) Bottles

Whether you are hosting a gathering at home, partaking in an NFL Sunday or celebrating a holiday, it never hurts to have a stocked bar. With craft spirits and specialized vineyards being more popular than ever these days, it is not always easy to keep up with the latest and greatest brands on the market. But as a frequent reader of industry trades, a prolific interviewer of brand ambassadors and a follower of key developments within the world of alcohol, I regularly take note of new and/or exciting products.

Just in time for Purim 2019, here are 15 brands – all of which kosher-ish if not fully certified kosher – to add to your home bar.

Monkey 47
Monkey 47 is a one-of-a-kind gin that has been carefully developed, handcrafted and batch distilled. It skillfully blends British tradition, the exoticism of India and unique botanicals from Germany’s Black Forest. Monkey 47 includes 47 botanicals, including juniper, lavender, lingonberries (indigenous to the Black Forest) and citrus aromas. With a cult following around Europe, Monkey 47 is also gaining traction throughout America.

SVEDKA
SVEDKA Vodka is the number-one imported vodka in the United States, yet earlier this year SVEDKA announced the launch of SVEDKA Rosé. The brand’s innovative answer to the popular rosé wine trend, it is now available in 50ML (SRP $1.99), 375ML (SRP $6.99), 750ML (SRP $12.99), 1L (SRP $16.99) and 1.75L (SRP $21.99) pours. If vodka is more your speed, SVEKDA’s flavor options include SVEDKA Blue Raspberry, SVEDKA Cucumber Lime, SVEDKA Mango Pineapple, SVEDKA Strawberry Lemonade, SVEDKA Strawberry Colada, SVEDKA Colada and SVEDKA Orange Cream Pop.

Tequila Mi CAMPO
Launched in North America in late 2018, Tequila Mi CAMPO is a 100-percent Blue Weber agave tequila. Filled with “aromas of fresh coconut, almonds, sweet orange and green apple over hints of elegant vanilla,” MI CAMPO’s Blanco is produced in Chardonnay barrels. MI CAMPO’s Reposado variety “features aromas of ripe banana and chocolate layered over fragrances of vanilla, cinnamon and clove” as made in Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir barrels. The brand’s eye-catching bottles were designed by artist Raul Urias of Mexico City.

Kim Crawford Wines
Although launched in 1996 in a small home in Auckland, New Zealand, Kim Crawford Wines began exporting to the United States only two years after launching. Within four years, the company moved into a state-of-the-art winery in Marlborough and began looking at vineyards to purchase and cultivate. Kim Crawford’s offerings include Sauvignon Blanc, Rose, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Anthony Walkenhorst is Kim Crawford’s master winemaker, helping to make New Zealand a true wine destination.

Kick Ass Sass
Sass Jordan has been called “Canada’s Queen Of Rock” for many years, and in partnership with the Ontario-based Vineland Estates she has launched Kick Ass Sass. Jordan’s wines — both reds and whites — made their debut back in January, making Jordan the first female Canadian musician to have her own wine line. One of its popular offerings is Kick Ass Sass Red 2016, a velvety Cabernet Franc brimming with hints of cherry, black currant, herbs, bramble, and spice. While Jordan has not recently played live in Los Angeles, she has been to town over the years for press and recording projects.

Benham Gin
The Graton Distilling Company was born out of owner Derek Benham’s love of making stuff cool and his insatiable sense of adventure. Benham got his start selling wine out of the trunk of his ’67 Mustang for a small winery and ended up running the business. Then Benham would strike out on his own and made hay in the wine business before the craft spirits bug bit him. Hard. Under Benham’s careful guidance, the Graton Distilling Company operates with a fearless commitment to craft. D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin — as launched in February 2016 — was the first spirit, and next up was D. George Benham’s Vodka. Following that has been Redwood Empire American Whiskey and the 10-Year-Old surprise offerings.

The Famous Grouse
First produced by Matthew Gloag & Son in 1896, The Famous Grouse is a popular brand of blended Scotch whisky. The highest-selling whisky brand in Scotland since 1980, Famous Grouse’s whiskey is known to mature in oak casks for up to six months. When purchased online through the spirit’s website, there is the option of personalizing the bottle year-round, which is something that most spirits only let you do during the December holiday season. Local to the L.A. area, Famous Grouse notably ran a “Distinctive Bartender Tour” in 2011.

Old Forester
Last month, Old Forester launched its newest — and spiciest — addition: Old Forester Kentucky Straight Rye Whisky, the distillery’s first new grain recipe in nearly 150 years. The new Old Forester Rye was crafted by Master Distiller, Chris Morris and Master Taster, Jackie Zykan, and follows the historic recipe for Normandy Rye, a brand which Brown-Forman acquired in 1940. Old Forester Kentucky Straight Rye Whisky is presented at 100 proof.

Enter Night Pilsener
Metallica and Arrogant Consortia (a Stone Brewing imprint) recently announced Enter Night Pilsner; it launched earlier this year and will go international this spring. Enter Night Pilsner has been described as “a unique expression of the shared values that have helped define both Metallica and the Escondido-based Stone Brewing: fiercely-independent, transcending genres, shattering preconceptions and challenging convention.” That said, Stone’s leadership and the members of Metallica worked together every step of the way to make Enter Night Pilsner a reality. As the story goes, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and Stone co-founder Greg Koch even enjoyed multiple occasions at Ulrich’s home “discussing” — supposed industry-speak for “drinking” — beers.

Macchu Pisco
Macchu Pisco was founded by entrepreneurs and philanthropists Lizzie and Melanie da Trindade-Asher. Together, the two have crafted an entirely new experience for discerning drinkers when they introduced the sublime spirit of Peru to the United States, Europe and beyond. While this duo certainly cast a reverent eye toward 400-year-old Pisco producing traditions, Macchu Pisco’s brands are singular in their modern purity and complexity, and have been regarded as nothing less than revelatory by mixologists and tasting panels such as the American Beverage Institute, which awarded the super-premium La Diablada the highest-point award of any Pisco in the U.S. market. Macchu Pisco’s eponymous brand is a premium line made 100-percent from the quebranta grapes. Among the spots in Los Angeles that have been known to serve pisco-related cocktails are Picca, Clifton’s Cafeteria, the Rose Cafe in Venice.

Bonterra Wine
Produced at California’s Bonterra Organic Vineyards, the Bonterra 2018 Rosé is the latest offering from the acclaimed wine label. This Bonterra variety celebrates the fresh, lively spirit of organic viticulture and the lush fruit flavors that shine through in this vintage. The wine’s aromas of strawberry, key lime, rosewater and hints of pineapple greet the nose, while a vibrant bouquet melts across the palate, with notes of ripe peaches, watermelon and pomegranate. As noted by Jeff Cichocki, Bonterra’s lead winemaker: “This is a dry Rosé, making it an ideal wine to enjoy on its own, but it is also incredibly versatile to pair with food. Think picnic fare, Asian-fusion, poached salmon, grilled fish or fresh salads.”

Zonin Prosecco
Perfect for sipping at the picnic, refreshing cocktails on the porch or as an aperitif before brunch alike, Zonin Prosecco – which had a big presence at the most recent Los Angeles Food and Wine Festival – has a dry, pleasantly-fruity flavor that pairs perfectly with just about any spring dish. Plus, as a refreshing, easy-drinking wine with award-winning taste at a fraction of the cost of other sparkling wines, you can stock up without breaking the bank and be fully ready for any spring themed activity. “Pale-straw yellow with a persistent perlage and rich mousse,” Zonin’s prosecco is notably refined and elegant.

Proper No. Twelve
Last week, Eire Born Spirits announced the launch of Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey in the United Kingdom. The whiskey brand founded and owned by MMA and UFC champion Conor McGregor, Proper No. Twelve was launched last year in Ireland and the U.S. to immediate success, selling its intended six-month supply sold within the first 10 days of release. Its next next batch — 25,000 cases immediately rushed into the States by McGregor — sold out within days of arrival. Subsequently, Proper No. Twelve has become the most followed spirit on Instagram, with over 575,000 followers in less than five months of being on the market.

Casa Noble Tequila
Founded by Jose “Pepe” Hermosillo, Casa Noble Tequila is produced by agave helmed within the rich soil of Jalisco. Unlike other tequilas, Casa Noble’s wares are triple-distilled, certified-organic and produced in small batches. Last year Casa Noble unveiled the limited-edition Selección del Fundador Volume II, an “8-year extra añejo reserve using only agaves planted in 1997.” Among the brand’s accolades are being the 2016 International Spirits Challenge’s “Tequila Producer of the Year” and OTW’s “Outstanding Tequila of the Decade,” so you ought to continue to expect innovation from Casa Noble.

Cocktail Artist
Launched about two years ago, Cocktail Artist is a line of premium cocktail mixes and bar ingredients designed in collaboration with award-winning mixologists from across the United States and the Bahamas. Cocktail Artist reinvigorated the mix category with premium ingredients and beautifully-designed packaging, initially launching at Walmart with eight mixes and bar ingredients. Among the participating mixologists is Skyy John, a.k.a. Tipsy Bartender, who has 27 million followers worldwide on social media, and the Santa Cruz-based Stephanie Sanchez of Severino’s Bar and Grill.

These brands have been certified through Star-K or through Rabbi Sholem Fishbane from the Chicago Rabbinical Council.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: The Megillah with Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. She is the author of Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community and There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice through Jewish Law and Tradition.

This week we speak about Purim and the story of the Megillah. Is Esther a feminist, should we feel uncomfortable about Jews killing their enemies, is the King a villain?

 

 

And… don’t miss Rosner’s Podcast with Rabbi Mishael Zion, on The Book of Esther – A New Israeli Commentary.

The Whole Megillah

Picture is Purim Décor in my office, quite uncommon in Southern Indiana.

A wise biblical literature professor of mine frequently reminded us, “If anyone ever read this, they’d ban it.” It is both a hilarious and poignant statement that I find myself thinking about as I get ready for my favorite holiday of the year, Purim. Like most Jewish kids, I grew up with the pretty tame Purim story, usually acted out by the synagogue clergy and staff in a schmaltzy shpiel. As I grew older I eventually read “The Whole Megillah” and understood not only the meaning of that phrase, but how the Book of Esther is anything but tame.

Let us start with the most obvious—King Ahasuerus was an idiot who partied too much. Three years into his reign, he threw a party for his servants for one hundred and eighty days and then another one the people of Shushan for a week after that (Esther 1:4-5). Essentially, he partied for six months and did so while his showing off his gold and silver. As if that was not enough, he then orders Vashti to come before his friends so he can show off how beautiful a queen he has. What exactly is meant by her refusal to “show the peoples and the princes her beauty” (1:11), as well as her being banished from the kingdom, are matters of numerous interpretation, but she clearly stood up for herself and refused to be made a mockery by blindly obeying her husband. A feminist way ahead of her time! Why then is Vashti not regarded with the same heroism as Esther? Did I miss that part of the shpiel?!?!

One could argue that Ahasuerus was merely drunk or living as a king would in that time period, but then along comes Haman (shake those groggers!) and Ahasuerus’ blind approval to annihilate the Jewish people (chapter 3). Unlike Vashti, Ahasuerus does what he is told without a second thought. So not only should we be celebrating Vashti (and Esther, of course!), but we should also remind ourselves to NOT be like Ahasuerus, showing off our wealth, expecting others to blindly do what we tell them and in return, not participating in something without stopping to truly understand what it is we are doing. To say nothing of the later violence and commentary about the sexual innuendos regarding what happened when Esther appeared before the King. This is obviously not a part of Jewish education for young children!

To be fair, children should probably not be taught the “Whole Megillah” as described above. However, I do believe there are critical messages all ages can get from the story of Purim:

  1. Stand up for what you believe is right. Whether it is protecting your individual honor and dignity (Vashti) or that of your people (Esther) or just not standing idly by while someone else is made to suffer (don’t be like Ahasuerus!), be like the two feminine heroines of the story.
  2. Be proud of who you are. Being a minority is difficult, but we should all remember the strength of Esther, Moses, Judah Maccabee and Jewish martyrs throughout history who embraced their Judaism and gave us the freedom to put on those ridiculous costumes we will wear tonight.
  3. A recent article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) also parallels Esther’s coming out as a Jew to those in the LGBTQ community. The costumes serve as a metaphor for hiding one’s true identity with the hope that after the holiday is over, they will be shed and one’s true identity will be unmasked.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not note that tomorrow is also a joyous holiday for our Hindu friends, Holi. While sharing a calendar date, it is also remarkable how much these two holidays share in common. Like Purim, Holi celebrates the victory of good over evil and is celebrated with great joy (colors and bonfires). It is a celebration of spring and a time to relax and be with friends.

So as those in the Jewish and Hindu communities celebrate tonight and tomorrow, I think it is important to continually note we are more alike than different and all can come together to celebrate the good in the world. It sure is a lesson we all need now, no matter how old or how young we are.

Hag Sameach!


Lisa Rothstein Goldberg is a social worker and Jewish educator, currently working at Ivy Tech Community College in Sellersburg, Indiana. She and her husband, Matt, JCRC Director in Louisville, live in Louisville with their two young daughters.

Purim Parsha

No one wanted to be Haman

at the Purim carnival,

sniveling villain who would separate

Jews’ heads from necks

if steadfast Mordechai

and his courageous cousin Esther

hadn’t saved the day.

All the girls wanted to be Esther, ’natch,

mothers’ nightgowns sashed with silk

over our short-sleeved leotards, 

rhinestone ear clips pinching flesh,

cardboard crowns looped under our ponytails.

The boys dressed up as King Ahasuerus,

striding down the temple’s halls 

with proclamations of beneficence,

waving scepter broomsticks 

wrapped in tin foil.  

The point is, 

nobody wanted to be the bad guy,

the one who people feared and hissed,

who whispered “murder” into royal ears

before the voices of compassion 

drowned out bigotry to teach the lesson:  

we are all the same.

Which brings me to our current 

costume ball of hate-filled pageantry,

gragers spun by crowds in keen encouragement

of every mocking swipe, each cruel incitement

to eliminate the foreigner-

anyone whose race, religion, skin tone

makes us feel ill at ease and doubt

our clear superiority.    

Maybe it’s time to reimagine Sunday school,

when we all dressed up as heroes

and booed evil ones together,

when we studied what the difference was

between the dark and light.

Delivering Kindness to Iranian Senior Center on Purim

2019 Maher Fellow Daniella Cohan helps prepare Purim baskets for residents of the Iranian Jewish Senior Center. Photo courtesy of 30 Years After

Candice Hakimianpour is looking forward to spending this Purim in the company of an older man.

For 29-year-old Hakimianpour, this Purim, she’ll forgo her usual Purim parties with fellow young professionals to spend her time with the septuagenarians and octogenarians at the Iranian Jewish Senior Center in Beverly Hills.

Hakimianpour is a member of a group of current and alumni members of 30 Years After’s Maher Fellowship program who will be delivering Purim baskets to center’s residents.

Established in 2014, the six-month fellowship is the nation’s only leadership program for young Iranian-American Jews. The program promotes leadership in American civic, political and Jewish life through bimonthly sessions that focus on topics ranging from the history of Persian Jewry to Israel advocacy and the imperative for philanthropy. This weekend, fellows are headed to the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. 

All of the residents of the senior center fled Iran after the revolution in 1979. 

“I see this visit to the senior center as visiting a significant piece of our past,” Hakimianpour said. “We can learn from it, gain wisdom with each conversation, and shape our future by heeding their advice.” 

Kevin Delijani, 25, said, “I grew up as a Persian Jew in Los Angeles because the generations that came before me built a community here 40 years ago. Whether there is still a Persian-Jewish community here in 40 years depends on my generation, and there is no better way to learn how we can make it thrive than from the people who built it.” 

Daniella Cohan, 26, who helped make Purim baskets for the seniors several days before the event, said, “I’m grateful to be able to give back to those in the community who sacrificed so much to build better lives for our generation.” 

Ilana Yazdi, the senior center’s general manager, told the Journal that the Maher Fellows will be the first group of young professionals to visit the facility since the center’s founding in 2003. 

“This is so important,” she said. “For our seniors, they need this kind of attention, and youthful energy always uplifts and encourages them. The visitors can remind our residents of themselves and their children when they were young. And for the young people, when they visit here and see that they, too, will one day grow very old, they’ll be reminded to be a little kinder — both to themselves and to their parents.”

The organization 30 Years After plans to also visit the Iranian Jewish Senior Center next month to help residents welcome Shabbat with challah, grape juice, songs and stories. 

“Elie Wiesel once said that in Jewish history, there are no coincidences,” said 30 Years After President Sam Yebri. “That our community survived persecution in ancient Persia and again in modern Iran is no coincidence. Only by breaking bread with our elders can we find meaning and purpose in our survival.”


Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and former co-founder and executive director of 30 Years After. She currently serves as director of the Maher Fellowship. 

Purim Spiels: Going Behind the Curtain

The Shushan Channel spiel. Photos courtesy of Rob Kutner

 Several months before most Jews start to think about Purim, there are those who pay special attention to the world around them, the cultural themes and products of the moment, the politics and social proclivities. These Jews are the comedically inclined creatives who feel Purim approaching in their kishkes. They are the ones who craft sketches, song parodies and Purim-based satire to entertain their communities.

Longtime spieler and comedy writer Rob Kutner first caught the spiel bug while studying at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem between college and the start of his professional comedy writing career, making him perhaps “the only person in history to be studying Mishnah while simultaneously writing a spec script for ‘Frasier,’ ” he said. The Pardes spiel was “a way to join the two halves of my brain,” he said. “It was my ad d’lo yada (“until you don’t know the difference”) moment, except instead of conflating Haman and Mordechai, it was ‘sacred text’ and ‘funny sketch.’ ”

When Kutner moved to New York in the early 2000s to write for “The Daily Show,” he had to leave his L.A. spiritual home, “my beloved Shtibl Minyan,” and “hit upon the idea of staging my own spiel (The Shushan Channel) with professional actors and writers as a way to create my own community. You know the saying: ‘If you grog it, they will come,’ ” he said.

Thanks to Kutner’s “Daily Show” connections, he was able to recruit guest performers like Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry and Ed Helms to read the Purim story and deliver an unfiltered comic take on the Megillah in a segment called “The Goyish Rebuttal.” One year, he had his “Daily Show” colleague, comedian J.R. Havlan, do the rebuttal, except he forgot to tell Havlan what happens when you say “Haman.” 

Jews are people of the book. We are storytellers. Coming together for Purim to laugh and play and remember is exactly what we’ve done forever to keep our spark alive.” — David Schwartzbaum

“This is literally my office-mate from work, he’s doing me a favor and I put him in front of a crowd who’s repeatedly booing him at what seem like random times!”

A few years in, I became involved in Kutner’s production, first as a volunteer, then as a writer and “sort-of” (not very good) very occasional actor. My spiel journey has continued for the past several years at IKAR; our writers convene at Bibi’s Bakery about six weeks before the holiday, so that resident baker and funny man Dan Messinger can be part of the comedy collusion. Our table has writing and production alumni of TV shows past and present, and a few comedy civilians, either recruited or self-selected into the creative company. 

Actress Rena Strober, who directed and performed in last year’s Temple Israel of Hollywood spiel, is helping to create this year’s spiel at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, where she will play “The Marvelous Mrs. Shooshan.”

“I love telling Jewish stories through song, scene and sometimes comedy and dance,” Strober said. “It makes it more enjoyable for people of all ages to connect to the people of our past.” 

Lizzie Weiss, Cantor at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (TEBH), called the spiel “one of the best tools of engagement” because it’s supported by kids and parents alike. This year TEBH’s musical theme is Bruno Mars; previous spiels have featured the music of the rock group Queen or the Broadway musical “Hamilton.”  

“In a Reform congregation, we are cognizant that people aren’t always aware of the Megillah,” Weiss said. “The music of ‘Hamilton’ was the magnet we needed to attract kids to this awesome community event and ‘sneak’ in the wonderfully tumultuous story of Esther.” 

“Jews are people of the book. We are storytellers,” said comic and actor David Schwartzbaum, who will be spieling this year at Open Temple in Venice and Temple Israel of Hollywood. “We’ve passed down our story for thousands of years. Judaism is a communal religion and we come together in times of grief and in times of joy. Coming together for Purim to laugh and play and remember is exactly what we’ve done forever to keep our spark alive.” 

Jenna Turow, a student at and spieler for the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, started spieling after years of writing and acting in sketches and song parodies at camp and in United Synagogue Youth (USY). 

“It makes me feel more connected because it’s a chance to get everyone to laugh, especially at themselves,” Turow said. “I love making people laugh, and encouraging people to not take themselves too seriously. Plus, I feel that I can properly toe the line between appropriate jokes and pushing the limit, [which is what] Purim is all about.”

Turow also found spieling, and Purim in general, to be really helpful while dealing with her mother’s terminal illness. “It is a blessing to be given the responsibility to cause joy for myself and others,” she said. 

Spielers are divided on their approach to incorporating politics. Weiss recalled the 2018 Purim season, which came at the height of #metoo-related conversations. TEBH Senior Rabbi Jonathan Aaron created a monologue by Vashti as “a pivotal teaching moment,” she said, which addressed “what it meant when Vashti said ‘no’ and when Esther used her femininity to further the cause of the Jewish people. Although Purim can be a time of blurry-eyed drunkenness and hysterical laughter,” she said, “there are always teaching moments for our kids and teens.”

Turow tries to avoid politics in the spiel, “because I’d rather focus on things that we can laugh at more recklessly, without the worries of everyday life creeping in,” she said. 

Kutner includes political references, but avoids entirely political spiels.

“Not to avoid taking a side,” he said, “but because I feel we’re already drowning in that, and Purim is supposed to be an escape.”

Vegan Halvatashen for Fierce Queens

Queen Esther may have saved our people from Haman’s evil plot but that’s not the only thing she’s known for.

The beautiful bride of the king of ancient Shushan, who foiled the dastardly adviser’s scheme to kill the Jewish community in Persia, was probably vegan. According to legend, because Esther’s Uncle Mordecai believed that anti-Semitism abounded in the ancient land, he advised her to hide her identity. Because the palace didn’t serve kosher food, Esther subsisted on seeds and grains, fresh fruit and vegetables and, some say, also “seedpods,” which are thought to be legumes. In this way, she kept her identity a secret and managed to steal the king’s heart. 

When the courageous queen found out that the future of her people was at stake, she quickly devised a scheme of her own: honesty. Yes, she admitted she was Jewish and told the king that Haman was plotting against her community. We know the rest of the story: Haman and his mean sons were hanged and Queen Esther lived to rule her vegan palace — and we are stuck eating hamantashen on Purim until the end of time.

Ask the average Israeli where to find the best hamantashen, and you’ll get a blank stare. The word hamantashen, used to describe traditional Purim cookie, is thought to be derived from the German and is a puny take on Haman’s pockets and ears and perhaps even his satchel. In Hebrew, the words “Oznei Haman” (Haman’s ears) reflect the Jewish sense of humor and the way Jews coped with living as outcasts by turning something evil into something sweet. Historian Gil Marks wrote, “The tradition forged by life in exile and a vital element in dealing with it particularly manifests itself on Purim, a time when joking and frivolity is encouraged.” 

In Tel Aviv in particular, Purim is all about the party, the costumes, celebrating, drinking and eating, the last two in the extreme. All bakeries break out their Oznei Haman usually starting a few weeks before the holiday. Queen Esther’s predilection for seeds made poppy seed-filled cookies the standard and,  until about 10 years ago, poppy seed, chocolate, apricot and raspberry were the only flavors you could find. Now, of course, Israeli pastry chefs, trying to outdo one another creatively, have made savory Oznei Haman with stuffings of spinach, goat cheese, and caramelized onion just as common as sweet varieties. Pistachio cream, ricotta, candied fruit, chocolate dulce de leche, and vanilla lavender are but a few of the contenders in Israel’s cutting-edge bakeries, as are hundreds of other varieties. 

“Taking inspiration from the mysterious and sensuous Persian kitchen can turn bemoaning wasted calories into a new addiction.”

The cookie-filling variations aside, many hamantashen recipes in the United States open with a disclaimer along the lines of “I never really liked this cookie …” or “Most hamantashen are bland, dry and overly sweet.” I can’t argue with those sentiments. In fact, to me, most of the Ashkenazi versions of Jewish pastries such as rugalach, honey cake and hamantashen fall firmly in the “calories wasted on nostalgic foods you don’t actually like” category. But taking inspiration from the mysterious and sensuous Persian kitchen can turn bemoaning wasted calories into a new addiction. 

Because Iranian Jews on Purim tend to eat Persian halvah, a delectable combination of saffron and cardamom sugar-scented butter, flour and tahini studded with nuts and roses, why not riff on that theme and create a halvah hamantashen that even Queen Esther could fit into her beauty regimen? Absent from this recipe is butter and loads of sugar but it’s replaced by a lightly sweetened and tender crumbed vegan dough made with coconut oil and a touch of rosewater and filled with a simple orange and cardamom-scented halvah interior that encapsulates the very essence of the exotic. 

Sure, a week ago there were rockets fired into Tel Aviv but you can be sure that this week, the Purim revelry will go on boldly and unabashed. After all, we are celebrating the courage and principles of a Persian queen without whose heroism our people may have perished before we ever had the chance to be brave ourselves.

VEGAN HALVATASHEN

For the dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/4 cup room-temperature coconut oil (not melted)
1 teaspoon rosewater (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup almond milk (or other vegan milk)
1 tablespoon orange rind

For the filling:
1 cup raw tahini (sesame paste)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/4 cup water, or as needed

Sesame seeds, chopped pistachio nuts, chopped candied orange peel, candied                          
rose petals for garnish (all optional)

Place flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a food processor and pulse to blend dry ingredients. Add the room-temperature coconut oil and continue to pulse until mixture becomes crumbly.

Add rosewater and vanilla extract and gradually the milk, only until the mixture comes together into a soft ball. Pulse in the orange rind. Do not over process.

Removed ball of dough from the food processor, wrap in cling film and place in refrigerator until thoroughly chilled — at least 2 hours up to overnight.

To make the filling, mix together tahini, powder sugar, orange juice, honey, cardamom and then add cold water one tablespoon at a time until the mixture is smooth and the consistency of peanut butter. You want a thick filling — do not add too much water. Set filling aside until ready to assemble. 

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Remove dough from refrigerator and place on a lightly-floured surface. Roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch glass rim or cookie cutter, cut dough into circles. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle. 

Fold top of circle toward the center, left side toward the center and bottom of circle toward the center creating a triangle shape. Pinch dough tightly at edges of triangle and make sure the middle of the circle with the filling is showing. 

Place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush with a bit of vegan milk or water and sprinkle with sesame seeds or finely chopped pistachio pieces (if using.)

Place baking sheet in refrigerator for about 1 hour before baking so that cookies will hold their shape. 

Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Rotate the baking tray back to front halfway through baking.

Cool thoroughly on a rack and use a fine sieve to decorate with a touch of powdered sugar before serving.

Makes 24.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co. 

This Purim, Stand With All Who Stood With Us

Rabbi Robin Podolsky, pictured far left, at the Interfaith press ponference Photo by Ryan Torok

Our interfaith press conference and vigil at the Islamic Center of Southern California on March 15 felt something like returning home. We were responding to the hideous massacre of Muslims at prayer in Christchurch, New Zealand, and all of us — Jews, Sikhs, Christians and just good people who couldn’t bear to be anywhere else right then were received so graciously and with so much love by our Muslim siblings that it was not at all clear who was comforting whom.

It’s the most cosmopolitan house of worship I’ve ever attended — where everyone from great-grandparents to toddlers smiles at one another; where people of every shade, size and style of dress, who come from six continents and speak multiple languages, unite in prayer.

We’d been there before: after the Muslim ban was announced; after the 2016 election; after the Orlando massacre of Latino gay men by a man who professed Islam; and after Pittsburgh.

So many of the Muslim people we prayed with at the recent Christchurch vigil had come to stand with us at our vigil after the Pittsburgh massacre. Women from my interfaith support group who share stories and food and sewing and art making — Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Jews — were there, embracing, not from an abstract sense of human fellowship but because we belong to one another. We love one another. We felt the pain, the wrenching body ache, one feels when someone hurts the people we love. It is the price — and the glory — that comes from reaching out to, making friends with, and building personal stakes in the well-being of people we have been told to distrust.

Also at the vigil were social justice organizations like Bend the Arc, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, L.A. Voice, and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. There were priests and rabbis, ministers and imams. There was Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Michael Feuer, City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, and Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council member Jarin Maruf.

Each speaker, in addition to offering words of comfort and shared grief, addressed some hard, necessary truths. Several reminded us that, like the Pittsburgh shooter, the accused killer in New Zealand wrote about Muslims and immigrants as “invaders,” deploying a trope that emanates from the highest office of our country.

“We have a bitter version of the story to retell. … we name the Haman who walks among us still.”

The very next Shabbat after the massacre was Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance which comes before Purim, the holiday in which we celebrate our own deliverance from a massacre. We remember Amalek, the ones who attack from behind and were the first, our Torah teaches, to attack the people Israel had after they had been liberated from slavery and entered the desert wilderness. We are told that Amalek attacked the old and very young, and those too weak or ill to fight. In our tradition, Amalek is conflated with Haman of the Purim story, the one who incites genocide, the one who wants to destroy an entire people or religion out of hatred and fear.

We will hear our Torah in synagogue and we will be asked to remember. “Remember what Amalek did to you on the road…” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 25:17). Remember our implacable opposition to the genocidaire, to all the Amaleks and Hamans, to the Hitlers and inquisitors and crusaders; all of those for whom difference is an unconscionable affront to be punished with extinction.

Then comes Purim. The holiday is fun for kids, but, at its core, it is a holiday for adults. Purim plunges us to the depths of our humanity, the mess and vulnerability that comes with being flesh and having partial knowledge, tethered to the Divine by the thread of our souls.

The narrative in our Megillah, which we are commanded to hear, is not really a story for children. It’s a tale of Diaspora Jews threatened with imminent extermination, who are saved at the last minute by a Jewish harem queen married off to a drunken fool, coached by her unmarried uncle and his best friends, the eunuchs.

Purim is a holiday in which Diaspora Jews celebrate their situation as insiders/outsiders. The emotional climax of the story puts the protagonists on opposite sides of doors and walls. Esther, the secret Jew, is married to a drunken, malleable king, who has been persuaded through bribery by a bigoted vizier to authorize the extermination of the Jews. The Jews, Haman the genocidaire explains, are a dangerous ethnic minority who persist in their own religion and customs. They are disrupters — invaders even.

Esther is confined to the harem. Mordecai, the known Jew, is making a public performance of grief, wailing immoderately just outside the city gate (where public conversations were known to happen). Mordecai is engaged in very serious performance art — clothed in sackcloth and ashes, he cries out his grievance, making sure that no one in the capital city of Shushan could say that, whatever happened to the Jews, they knew nothing about it.

The go-between who connects Esther with Mordecai is Hatach, a eunuch — a person who can slip between gendered worlds and between the inside and outside of the palace and the city. It is he who serves as the vital link through whom Esther and Mordecai can plan their resistance. The Jews and the eunuch act in solidarity to create change. They are insiders and outsiders, dependent on one another.

On Purim we celebrate deliverance with excess — first we fast, then we feast. It’s a mitzvah (only to be observed by those who don’t risk their health or life to do so) to get too hammered to know our best friends from our enemies.

There are four mitzvahs to fulfill on Purim. There’s the bit about drunkenness, to be enjoyed in the course of a festive meal. The others are to hear the story of Purim read from the Megillah once at night and once during the day, to give gifts of food to friends, and to give gifts to the poor.

Our custom is to celebrate with masquerade and song; to dress up in costumes (many rabbis allow and even encourage cross-dressing on this night); and to put on Purim spiels, satirical plays that retell the story, often in light of current events. This is Jewish carnival, a chance to lampoon and to wear those masks that reveal hidden truths about who we are and wish to be.

This year, we have a bitter version of the story to retell. This year, we name the Haman who walks among us still. As Rabbi Sharon Brous said at the Islamic Center, “I lift up all who suffer at the hands of white supremacy — a hateful, radical ideology that has wreaked havoc and devastation across generations and oceans.”

This year, as we celebrate the worth of keeping our religion and culture while being true to the larger communities and polities in which we live, we remember how vulnerable we are. We remember who was there to hold us when we mourned, and with whom we must identify if we are all to survive what’s in store.


Rabbi Robin Podolsky teaches at Cal State Long Beach, writes for Shondaland, and serves as a Jewish Community Engagement Fellow at J Street. 

Breaking Free of the Esther/Vashti Complex

“The Banquet of Esther and Ahasuerus” by Jan Victors

Call it the “Esther/Vashti Complex” — the perennial Purim impulse to define Esther and Vashti against each other as foils, opposites, rivals, or enemies.

They were none of these. This false dichotomy has been superimposed on the narrative, enduring through the ages, reducing the women to two-dimensional figures, robbing them of the dignity of human complexity. It obscures a story of female empowerment behind a mask of misogyny. 

For 25 centuries, scholars, rabbis and other thinkers have tried to pit two courageous women against each other, depicting Vashti as wicked and Esther as angelic, venerating Esther by vilifying Vashti. 

But Harriet Beecher Stowe praised Vashti as early as 1878 for standing up for women’s rights, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton applauded Vashti’s defiant resistance in 1898. In recent decades it has become increasingly fashionable to vindicate Vashti and even to devalue Esther with faint praise or outright scorn. “Vashti fights for her modesty and her honor, while our heroine Esther is willing to work through the bedroom,” writes Rabbi Ruhama Weiss. Isabel Kaplan derides Esther for having “slept her way to the top.” Scriptural slut-shaming seems particularly ill-advised and retrograde. 

Not only were Esther and Vashti never adversaries, there is historical evidence to suggest they were the same woman. The next time you thumb through ancient secular sources such as “The Histories” by Herodotus or Plato’s account of Socrates’ dialogue with Alcibiades, you’ll notice they name only one woman, Amestris, as the wife of Xerxes, the Persian king identified with Ahasuerus.  

Drop the “V” from Vashti and the “Am” from Amestris, and it’s not much of a stretch from the remaining “ashti” and “estris” to “Esther.” Etymologies reaching back to ancient Greek, Persian, Babylonian and Hebrew are complex and uncertain at best. Esther derives from Ishtar, a Greek goddess and “star.” Vashti and Amestris also share roots. 

Esther and Vashti contend with the same husband, the same patriarchal authority. They never appear together, or even at the same time. For interpretive purposes, we may conclude that they were two women of valor. Or one. 

Ahasuerus throws a party, a six-month government shutdown to energize his base.  Wine is served in vessels of gold. The décor is garish. 

Later, the king convenes a smaller party of cronies, patrons, sycophants and generals while Queen Vashti fêtes the real housewives of Shushan’s noblest families. 

The king orders Vashti to abandon her female posse and her dignity, and dance naked in front of the men. Vashti refuses.

Ahasuerus can have Vashti brought to him by force. But he needs her to appear voluntarily so he can seem like a benevolent husband with a loving, compliant wife. Vashti’s refusal shatters the illusion. 

Ahasuerus spins his personal embarrassment as a political question. He asks his advisers what to do. Vashti’s defiance — a courageous declaration of self-ownership — terrifies the king’s men. They fear that Vashti’s chutzpah will inspire their wives to rebel and disobey.

Vashti is banished. Details are sketchy. Perhaps she is simply relegated to the king’s harem, hidden from the public and banned from the royal bedroom.

Ahasuerus is left embarrassed and alone.

A search for Vashti’s replacement commences with young women commanded to compete for the role, sequestered in the palace, bathed in frankincense and myrrh. Each woman spends a night on the king’s casting couch. There can be only one leading lady. After, uh, auditioning them all, the king will anoint his favorite. 

This process is described as a beauty contest. The winner will wear the royal crown that provided no honor and no protection to Vashti. These women will be raped and enslaved as concubines. (How strenuously we must avert our attention from these sordid details to maintain the fairy-tale illusions we associate with this happy holiday.)

Esther is conscripted into this beauty contest by her cousin and guardian Mordecai. She is the orphaned daughter of his uncle. Having raised Esther from childhood, Mordecai offers her to the king. This act is troubling, to put it mildly.

But Esther is a strategic thinker. She enters the contest without protest. Esther gives Ahasuerus what Vashti refused him — in private, not in front of an audience. What she chooses to reveal is superficial. She conceals her Jewish identity. 

The king requires Esther to agree to remain obedient, an ironic legacy of Vashti’s refusal. Esther formally consents. Perhaps this is a sadder but wiser Vashti, transformed into the savvy Esther, pursuing a new strategy. 

Ahasuerus decrees a festival to honor the new queen. He never asks Esther to dance. To win popularity, he cuts taxes.

Meanwhile, Haman wants the world to bow to him. Mordecai won’t bow. And when Mordecai discovers a plot to assassinate the king, he sends a warning through Esther, earning the king’s gratitude and Haman’s wrath. Haman then plans to kill all the Jews. 

Mordecai wants Esther to get the king to prevent the pogrom. But even the queen may not visit the king unless he summons her. Aware of what happened to Vashti, Esther hesitates to approach the erratic king. Mordecai argues that self-preservation and Jewish solidarity compel her to act.

So, Esther presents herself to the king. He invites her to approach and kiss his scepter. She complies. We pretend not to understand. The visit is conjugal. It’s been a month since husband and wife last saw each other. 

As it turns out, the king is delighted that his wife took the initiative. The now-uxorious Ahasuerus protects Esther as he failed to protect Vashti. Esther has won a victory on the metaphorical battlefield where Vashti fell.

Haman is then hung from the gallows he built for Mordecai. Enabled by Esther, the Jews defend their lives. 

Esther takes the baton of female empowerment passed by Vashti. Or, if you prefer, Vashti reemerges as Esther. The Jewish people get a seat at the table of power. The tradition of matrilineal descent in intermarriage affords Esther the prospect of bearing children who will be Jewish Persian royalty. 

On Purim we drink wine until we cannot tell the difference between Mordecai and Haman. Better to drink wine until we cannot tell the difference between Esther and Vashti, and break free of the Esther/Vashti Complex.


Alan Robert Ginsberg is a historian and the author of “The Salome Ensemble.”

March 22, 2019

Purim: When the Sin Becomes the Mitzvah

The festival of Purim is known for its carnivalesque tenor — a day of unmitigated joy, a celebration of Jewish survival. This exuberant expression of divine disclosure led the rabbis to view Purim as the final iteration of the theophany at Mount Sinai. But lurking right beneath the surface is a dark secret. Purim is a day when transgression becomes necessary — a day of aveirah lishma (sin for the sake of heaven).

The normative halachic tradition developed a series of directives (mitzvot ha-yom) to performatively shape what was viewed as the very core of the story that includes the expression of joy and the commandment to hate. The liturgical insertion for Purim, the Al’ha-Nisim prayer, is one of the oldest extant liturgical formulas. It begins with setting the day as a battle between good (Mordecai) and evil (Haman). It then moves to praising God for turning evil into good, introducing Purim’s distinctive quality of inversion (v’nahafoch hu). The prayer concludes with something we rarely see in classical Jewish texts: the celebration of murder in the hanging of Haman and his sons — “And they hanged him and his sons on a tree.” It is not surprising that some siddurim add an addendum in parenthesis about divine miracles, as if to say that the sages felt uncomfortable ending a prayer with the celebration of murder. But, in fact, that is part of what Purim is about.

Thus, the day celebrates survival and “commands” hate — the hatred of evil, the celebration of its demise and waiting for absolute evil (Amalek) to succumb to the power of good. There is something here that is dissonant to the Jewish ear. Although violence has always been a part of any human collective history, Judaism does not generally celebrate human violence in such an open, ceremonial and ritualistic fashion. The story’s surprising and unexpected turning of evil into good is part of the emotional charge that enables us to celebrate violence. But what of this inversion? How systemic is it? Can the divine power that is able to make evil into good also make the prohibited into the permissible? Does not Purim, with its focus on inversion, have an innate antinomian (anti-legal) strain? Inversion … rising above the binary of good and evil … divine absence revealed as divine presence (God’s absence from the story reveals God’s innate presence at the end) … v’nahafoch hu, the notion that everything is different than it appears (performed through wearing masks) — these motifs all point to something that erases the line that separates what we see and what really is, from evil to good, from prohibited to permissible.

The mitzvah to become inebriated (levasumei) on Purim, to achieve a state where there is “no difference between blessed (Mordecai) and cursed (Haman),” is another iteration of this same motif. The goal of inebriation in regard to Purim is to experientially enact the rupture of the binary that stands at the center of the entire rabbinic worldview (what is permissible and what is forbidden — issur v’heter). It is thus not far from “sin for the sake of heaven” (aveirah lishma). Much of what is written about Purim revolves around questions of good and evil, the nature and character of inversion, and the permissibility, even obligation, to celebrate death. Let us recall that the midrash has God chastising Israel for celebrating the death of the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds. But on Purim we celebrate the death of the enemy. These questions illustrate what I am calling, Purim as aveirah lishma.

“Purim provides the occasion for a seismic and dramatic good/evil inversion that breaks the binary of ‘blessed’ and ‘cursed.'”

Averiah lishma is a much-discussed jurisprudential category, denoting instances when prohibitions can become temporarily permitted. Thus, aveirah lishma functions inside the halachic orbit, a legal category that leaves open the possibility that deviance can sometimes be required. My exploration of Purim as aveirah lishma will be based on my reading of a short essay in Rabbi Ya’akov Moshe Charlap’s “Mei Marom.” Charlap (1882-1951) was born and died in Jerusalem, having lived there his entire life. A respected member of the Old Settlement Jewish community — he was rabbi of the Sha’arei Hesed neighborhood in Jerusalem — he became a Zionist and a close friend (talmid chaver) of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. He served as dean (rosh yeshiva) of the Yeshivat Mercaz ha-Rav Kook from its founding in 1924 until his death in 1951, after which the position went to Kook’s son, R. Zvi Yehuda Kook. Charlap wrote a number of important works including the multivolume “Mei Marom” dedicated to Torah commentary, essays on the festivals, and Musar. Before turning to Charlap’s rendering of Purim as aveirah lishma, I will offer a few brief reflections on the structural nature of aveirah lishma.

***

In his Hebrew essay, “Averah Lishma: Reflections in Law and Thought,” Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein suggests three traditional responses to cases where one’s sense of divine mandate and halachah conflict, a condition that arguably enables aveirah lishma to become operative. The first response is that such a breach is simply impossible; halachah is the will of God, and thus halachah can and should provide the solution to all potential problems. The second response is that such a breach is indeed possible but has few, if any, practical implications. I understand this to mean that while halachah and divine will can be in conflict, in principle the instances where this occurs are minimal enough as to not pose any threat to the legal system. The third response is both more radical and more conservative than the first two. It suggests that one can actually come to know divine will outside of halachah, but one is still forbidden to follow it because one’s primary responsibility is to the law, “even though it may err.” In this third case, irredeemable conflict between one’s sense of divine mandate and halachah is affirmed and, by implication, that one’s sense of personal mandate may indeed better express divine will than normative practice. This is the space out of which aveirah lishma evolves.

There are, of course, numerous biblical passages that gesture toward the notion that transgressions can sometimes be permitted, often leaning on the verse in Psalms, “How can one act for God, they are desecrating your Torah” (Psalm 119:126). However, this and many other cases of aveirah lishma are episodic and thus cannot support a more systemic break with normative halachah. Thus, the law remains, even “as it may err.” Except, that is, in cases of aveirah lishma. In that case, the halachah is inverted and the aveirah becomes the halachah itself.

One illustration of aveirah lishma that views Purim as a peculiar case of “necessary transgression” comes from Charlap’s collection “Mei Marom.” In an essay about Purim titled “The Obligatory Hatred of Amalek as Aveirah Lishma in a Temporary Setting (hora’at shah),” Charlap begins with the following provocative statement:

There are times when it is impossible for the world to continue (kiyum ha-olam) in its complete purity except by means of transgression in a temporary setting (aveirah b’hora’at shah). And even though this temporary setting is Torah … nevertheless the act [of aveirah lishma] still contains a remnant of transgression. For example, we learn that a light that was kindled by a gentile on Shabbat cannot be used for the light of Havdalah, even though we hold that a gentile is not commanded on the Sabbath laws. To the contrary, “A gentile who keeps the Sabbath is liable to the death penalty (b.T. Sanhedrin 58b).” Nonetheless, there is still a hint of transgression in the light.

Charlap goes on to suggest that the commandment of becoming inebriated (levasumei) on Purim is similar, as the drunken state disables the ability to distinguish between good and evil. When Amalek emerges as an operative force that will try to destroy the world, a temporary situation (hora’at shah) is set in motion to oppose that force from being victorious. Such a situation and goal would require the transgressive to be temporarily permitted. Purim is thus a commemorative iteration of this “temporary setting.” It is the day when one must descend to pure physicality through inebriation, the day when one must celebrate survival and also hate; all of this dark energy so that the evil forces, or “sitra akhra,” will be chocked and consequently destroyed. For Charlap, the temporary situation (hora’at shah) instituted by the continued existence of Amalek exists at all times. Purim, however, is the one day of the year when Israel can have some deep impact on Amalek’s demise. However, they can do so only by acting in a transgressive manner that, in that moment, becomes obligatory. Purim provides the occasion for a seismic and dramatic good/evil inversion that breaks the binary of “blessed” and “cursed.” Purim is the day when the sin becomes the mitzvah.

For Charlap, the inversion — breaking the good/evil binary — is required to understand the hatred and even murder of Amalek, a centerpiece of Purim. Under normal circumstances, hatred, murder and debauchery are inexcusable transgressions, and it is only the divine command to hate Amalek that makes hatred and the aspiration of genocide into a mitzvah. And yet, Charlap writes that an element of transgression still remains in those behaviors on Purim (celebrating genocide and destabilizing the boundary between good and evil), even as Jews are commanded to perform them. The rabbinic notion of “the nullification of Torah is its fulfillment” seems operative here, as if to say that aveirah lishma is a category internal to the halachic system itself. Halachah, on this reading, cannot fully repair the world; its abrogation, as aveirah lishma, must accompany it.

Charlap uses the category “temporary setting” (hora’at shah) as the condition of aveirah lishma that defines Purim. But how are we to understand the structural parameters that constitute a temporary setting (hora’at shah) and how long does such a setting last? Here the category of “national emergency” may help. There have been four instances a national emergency has been declared in U.S. history (1933, 1950, 1970 and 1971). Even though none of them has ever been formally revoked, each time the society reverted to a normative legislative process once the emergency was no longer considered operative. Perhaps the lack of an official end to the emergency points to the fact that something about the state of emergency remains, just not enough to justify executive privilege to act outside the law. This remaining element of emergency after the return to normalcy (its nonrevocation) enables us to see the permitted actions of an emergency as essentially flawed, even if they may have been necessary. During normal times they remain operative but relegated to the realm of the prohibited. The presence, or resonance, of the emergency in that normal space illuminates its prohibitive state (i.e., it is always overruled as an acceptable mode of behavior). Charlap’s view is that the sin that becomes the mitzvah, yet still retains an element of sin even when it is in a mitzvah state, may resemble the actions taken in a state of emergency.

While Charlap doesn’t say all of this specifically, this is how I understand his reflections on Purim as aveirah lishma. It is significant to remember that, in general, Charlap often echoed his teacher Rabbi Abraham Kook on the paradigm of aveirah lishma to describe secular Zionism. Here, I think he is also echoing Kook by taking the idea of aveirah lishma in a slightly different direction. The secularism of Zionism is, by definition, transient and temporary. Elsewhere Charlap writes, “With the grace of God, God’s glory can be revealed in Israel through its status as a people and a nation, even in a secular form.” But the secular, according to Charlap, can never be truly holy. It may only be temporarily necessary.

“We are commanded on Purim to engage in transgressive acts, even, or precisely because, our inclination would be against doing them.”

Charlap adds another layer to this novel idea. He offers a metaphysical rendering of a temporary setting that would result in making a transgression a mitzvah without erasing all of its transgressive qualities. One might assume that the remaining remnant of transgression exists (although Charlap never says so explicitly). Accordingly, when the temporary setting abates, when normalcy returns, it can return to its transgressive status and not be permanently absorbed into the system of the holy. Here it is necessary to quote Charlap at some length:

Here is the general principle: The foundation of all mitzvot is to establish unity, and transgression establishes separation, all evildoers are scattered (Psalm 92:10). How does this work? A mitzvah can and must be established with the will of the soul and the body together. This exemplifies the true perfection out of which the supernal unity is revealed. A sin, however, can never exist from [that place of] unity. Thus, the soul is never in agreement with the body and its appetites. The sign of this temporary setting (hora’at shah) is when that unity is impossible to achieve [in a normal state]. On the one hand, there is the pain in that we are in a place where this sin has been [or has needed to be] turned into a mitzvah. On the other hand, there is joy that we are able to fulfill the will of God and God’s commandments specifically in this multitudinous manner that fulfills the very purpose of a temporary setting….  From here we can understand the sages when they teach, “One must become inebriated on Purim until one does not know the difference between cursed Haman and blessed Mordecai.” (b.T. Megillah 7b). The whole notion of inebriation is like a “temporary setting” that continues to exist as long as Amalek does. But when there truly is no difference between cursed Haman and blessed Mordecai, everything will be considered in the realm of blessed Mordecai. At that time, the temporary setting will end and the obligation to becomes inebriated will cease being operative.

In many ways, this counters what one might expect from Charlap, who was adept in kabbalistic literature. One might say inebriation of Purim brings one to a messianic consciousness. Charlap says no. Once that future arrives (when the “emergency” ends), the need for the aveirah lishma (pure physicality to destroy the Amalekite evil in that physicality) will become unnecessary and the act of inebriation will return to its prohibitive state. Alternatively, aside from Purim as a temporary state of inversion, Jews do not have the requisite power to confront Amalek through transgression. The normative system remains intact. The “inebriated” state returns to its prohibitive nature. In the end time, inebriation won’t be necessary because evil will have been eradicated. In normal times inebriation is not permitted, simply because it won’t be effective. The necessity of inebriation is only obligatory in a temporary setting (hora’at shah) that permits it — that is, the day of Purim itself. Until that time when hora’at shah is lifted, however, the temporary state which requires aveirah lishma remains, becoming operative once a year, on Purim.

This approach offers an interesting rendering of Lichtenstein’s third category of aveirah lishma. “One can actually come to know divine will outside of halachah, but one is still forbidden to follow it since one’s primary responsibility is to the law, even though it may err.” According to Charlap, Purim is a temporary state whereby one’s general intuition of divine will would incline against hatred and rupturing the binary nature of halachah, and yet “the law” on that day commands acting against those inclinations by hating Amalek and getting to the place where there is no difference between “blessed Mordechai” and “cursed Haman.” The reason is that the day represents the persistence of evil, which would require frontal and proximate engagement to destroy its efficacy by means of what would normally be sinful acts. And yet the temporariness of the moment is reiterated by the fact that a specter of transgression remains precisely in those acts that the law commands. In this sense, Purim becomes the quintessence of aveirah lishma, albeit in reverse.

We are commanded on Purim to engage in transgressive acts, even, or precisely because, our inclination would be against doing them. But it is only through such transgressions that Purim can achieve its purpose: to enable us to believe evil can be destroyed through inversion. But let us not think that transgressive halachah can extend beyond the “temporary setting” of that day. It cannot. And thus, after Purim the very thing that was the law on Purim reverts to its prohibitive state. The sign of this, for Charlap and Kook, is that the inversion is never complete, the permissible-transgressive act never fully loses its prohibitive nature, even in the act of mitzvah. The sin that becomes the mitzvah still remains a sin, albeit one that we are commanded to do precisely in order to alleviate the “temporary setting” that requires its performance.


Shaul Magid is the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Professor of Jewish Studies and Religious Studies at Indiana University and the Distinguished Fellow in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College.

Who Will Rise Up for Me Against Evildoers; Who Will Stand Up for Me Against Workers of Violence? 

Reflections for Parshat Zachor after the massacre of Muslim worshippers in New Zealand

When I heard of the horrific terror attack in New Zealand, the pain of the Pittsburgh massacre came back to me. I immediately reached out to our friend Mahomad Khan, who joined us for solidarity services in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Massacre, to express my shock, horror, and condolences. I reached out to the Consul General of Azerbaijan who has formed such as strong bond with the Jewish community. They are both in mourning. Jewish groups across the world have condemned the violence and offered condolences. 

Chief Rabbi Mirvis of the UK expressed it this way, “There can be few acts of greater evil than the massacre of peaceful people at prayer. The attacks in New Zealand were terrorism of the most despicable kind, callously planned & motivated by the scourge of islamophobia. The victims & their families are in our hearts & our prayers.”

I recently spoke in shul about our response to hate and violence against Jews, and while this attack wasn’t physically against Jews, it might have well been against Jews. It could easily have been, as the murderous evildoers behind these killings hate Jews, Muslims, people of color, and anyone else. 

Let’s never forget that God “will not forsake His people, nor will He desert His inheritance.”

God has put battling evil in our hands as a test.

Missiles falling on Tel Aviv, and thank God no one hurt and those responsible held accountable.

More anti-semitic flyers in OC, and more condemnations.

More politicians accusing Jews of dual loyalty and many more people pushing back and calling out the antisemitism.

Attacks and vandalism against Jewish institutions and police and communities in an uproar.

As King David asked, “Who will rise up for me against evildoers; who will stand up for me against workers of violence?”

Dearest friends, God did not go through the trouble of sticking with the Jewish people for 3,500 years for us to abandon God’s ways now. God needs us to be Divine Ambassadors on Earth. God needs us to be his Angels here to help build a world of justice and righteousness. When we fulfill God’s work here, we become earthly Angles.

King David asks, “How long will the wicked, O Lord, how long will the wicked rejoice?” Until righteousness will return to the Earth.

And how can we, small Jewish people that we are have any impact on the world?

We are a “light unto the nations” and we have the capacity to bring light into the darkness of this world. We have the Torah to guide us, and our courage and stiff-necked stubbornness to never give up.

Why is Israel hated more than any other country on earth? Because there is so much holiness there, so much goodness, so much to offer the world.

On the Shabbat after the massacre in Christchurch, we read Parshat Zachor, which describes how Amalek tried to destroy the Jewish people as they travelled through the desert. We re-read this passage every year on the Shabbat Before Purim, because Haman is a descendant of Amalek, and to remind us of the mitzvah to eradicate Amalek’s evil from the world. The terrorists in New Zealand are part of the resurgence of Amalek in the world. 

Don’t give way to fear and hate. Don’t let the evil of Amalek enter our hearts or minds. Act wisely and justly and walk in God’s ways and let us pray that we see an outpouring of goodness within our community radiating out into the world, an end to this spiritual exile, and age of teshuva, redemption and righteousness.


Rabbi Yonah Bookstein is co-founder and spiritual leader of Pico Shul in Los Angeles.

Hamantashen Sunglasses for Purim

We’re a week from Purim. So what’s the best way to throw some shade at that evil Haman? These hamantashen sunglasses, of course. Wearing them will make you feel like a superhero — like Captain Hamantashen. And I find it’s also helpful to have some actual hamantashen cookies to snack on while making them. You know, for inspiration.

What you’ll need:
Card stock
Scissors
Glue
Tan felt
Transparent report dividers

 

1. Cut two strips of card stock to 8 inches by 1/4 inch.

 

2. Fold the strips to make a triangle. Glue the ends to secure them.

 

3. Cut two pieces of card stock that are 5 inches by 2 inches, and one piece that is 1/2 inch by 1 inch.

 

4. On the 5-by-2-inch pieces, cut out a long triangle to create the temple for the sunglasses. Cut this piece to fit your own ears.

 

5. Glue the temple pieces to the triangles as shown. Then glue the small 1/2-by-1-inch piece between the two triangles to make the bridge for your nose.

 

6. Cut wedge shapes out of tan-colored felt that will cover the sides of the triangle. Glue them in place with the curved part on the inside.

 

7. Cut triangles out of colored plastic sheets. Make them just larger than the triangular openings in the glasses. I used transparent report dividers I bought at Staples.

 

8. Glue the plastic triangles to the back of the sunglasses. Double-sided tape will also work. Finally, fold the temple pieces so they are perpendicular to the glasses.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “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.

What’s Happening: Purim Festivities

SAT MARCH 16

Shushan Neighborhood
The Reform community’s annual temple-wide Purim celebration features a day of fun, costumes, music, food and laughter. 3-5 p.m. carnival opens; 3-4 p.m. mitzvah fair; 5 p.m. spiel; 5:45 p.m. carnival reopens; 7:30 p.m. raffle winner announcement. $25 per wristband. Temple Isaiah, 10345 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-2772. .

SUN MAR 17

Pizza and Pints Purim
An evening of Purim debauchery and healing the world takes place during Open Temple’s “Pizza and Pints Purim.” Partygoers dance, move, wrestle, rap, read the Megillah and feed the homeless. Kombucha and beer for adults; pizza and soda for the kids. 4-7 p.m. Free. RSVP. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. (310) 821-1414.

Purim in Santa Monica
Game booths, unique vendors, rides, food trucks, a raffle contest and other attractions highlight the Santa Monica Community Purim Carnival 2019. The Santa Monica Synagogue and Beth Shir Shalom co-sponsor. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Free. 1448 18th St., between Broadway and Santa Monica Boulevard. (310) 453-4276.

Saddle Up for Wild Wise West
Little cowgirls and cowboys celebrate Purim at “Wild Wise West,” Stephen Wise Temple’s Purim carnival. 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. $20 ages 2-4 years old, $40 for kids 5-18 years old, free for adults and kids younger than 2. Prices rise after noon March 15. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561.

Wild Wild, West
Harkening to an earlier age, bull-riding highlights Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy’s Wild Wild West Purim Carnival. Euro-bungee, pony rides, a giant slide, archery, a petting zoo, a dunk tank and photo booth await. Wristbands required for children 3-18 for rides and activities and for adults wishing to ride the bull or Euro-bungee. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Wristbands $30 until March 14. $36 at the door.  Free for children younger than 3. Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, 9120 Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-6135. .

WED MAR 20

Purim Justice Carnival
Dress in costume, dance, drink, celebrate justice and partake in major noisemaking at IKAR’s Purim Justice Carnival. Bring your own grogger in the form of a pasta box, rice, cereal or whatever non-perishable food that makes noise. All donations will be brought to SOVA after the party. 6:30 p.m. Mini Megillah and costume parade for kids of all ages. Bar opens for adults. 7 p.m. Megillah reading and spiel. Free, but RSVP recommended. 8:15 p.m. party. $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Valet parking, $10. Candela La Brea, 831 S. La Brea Ave.  (323) 634-1870.

“Estheria”
The Pico-Union Project and its friends at Nefesh, East Side Jews and The Living Room collaborate on “Estheria,” an Israeli-style Purim celebration, featuring a costume contest with prizes, live music, line dancing led by Tina Michelle, snacks, a cash bar and the Purim story told from alternative points of view. 7 p.m. party starts. 7:30 p.m. Purim story. $20. Pico-Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. (213) 915-0084.

Shushan Funk
During a Purim spiel just for adults, the strictly modern music of Bruno Mars blends with tradition. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills clergy perform in a spiel of the Esther and Mordechai story, while hamantashen, Hamantinis and appetizers are served and the Megillah is read. 7 p.m. Free admission to the spiel. Drink tickets: 2 for $10, 5 for $20. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-3737.

Pasadena Purim
Purim at the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center features a Purim spiel, a taste of schnapps and sangria and, of course, the Megillah reading. 7 p.m. Free. Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena. (626) 798-1161.

Costume, Humor and Movie
An evening of Purim merriment takes place at Hollywood Temple Beth El. Highlights include a Megillah reading; a screening of the classic film “Hester Street,” following Jewish immigrants who come to the Lower East Side; Russian folk dance and refreshments. Come dressed in costume and bring a dessert or a light liquor to share along with a canned or boxed food for charity. 7:30 p.m. Free. Hollywood Temple Beth El, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 656-3150.

THU MARCH 21

“Purim in Candyland”
Candy canes, lollipops and gumballs galore, a sweet celebration is in store at the Friendship Circle of Los Angeles’ “Purim in Candyland” for children with special needs and their families. 5:30-8 p.m. Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, 1952 S. Robertson Blvd. RSVP to Chanie@fcla.org or call (310) 280-0955.

Sephardic Purim
Games, prizes and nosh highlight Sephardic Temple’s family-friendly Purim carnival. All children must be accompanied by an adult. 4-6:30 p.m. $35 for members (ages 5-15), $40 general and at the door. Sephardic Temple, 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 991-6032.

Table for Five: Purim

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

The king said to Haman, “Hurry! Take the garment and the horse just as you have said, and do just so for Mordechai the Jew who sits at the king’s gate. Do not leave out a thing from all that you suggested.” –Esther 6:10


Kylie Ora Lobell
Jewish Journal contributing writer 

In this scene from Megillat Esther, King Ahasuerus has just discovered that Mordechai foiled an assassination plot, and the king wishes to honor him. He asks Haman what that honor should look like, and Haman thinks, mistakenly, that the honor is for himself. He ends up having to lead Mordechai through the city and telling everyone how wonderful Mordechai is. 

Ever since the Jewish people have come into existence, hateful people like Haman have attempted to wipe us out. Sadly, anti-Semitism is on the rise again, even in the United States — just look at the recent comments from two U.S. congresswomen on the left, and the scary websites run by far-right trolls on the dark corners of the internet. 

Until redemption comes, anti-Semitism will sadly never go away. There will always be jealous, spiteful, God-hating individuals in the world who want to destroy us. But I’m confident that we will survive every attack, just like we did over and over in years past, including in the story of Purim. 

Haman was a very powerful man, and yet in the end, he failed and the Jews won. We turned what was to be a tragic day into the most joyous one on the Jewish calendar. I’m hopeful that when Moshiach comes soon, anti-Semitism will finally be wiped away, and the Jews will prevail like they did in Shushan. We will truly shine, showing the world our status as a light unto the nations. May you have a wonderful, joyous and meaningful Purim!

Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon
Motivational speaker

The instructions relayed by King Ahaseurus to Haman to assist Mordechai the Jew by preparing his apparel and horse without delay, goes to the core of the poetic justice that personifies the story of Purim. 

The sudden turn of fate whereby Haman, who had planned Mordechai’s demise in detail, was about to meet the exact fate he planned for Mordechai, highlights two of the most important themes of Purim:

Firstly, the emotion of laughter. There is no greater reversal than the prospect of immediate death replaced with life. The first time the concept of laughter appears in the Torah is in the context of Yitzchak. In addition to the allusion to laughter in Yitzchak’s name, our Sages teach that Yitzchak’s return from imminent death reflects the ultimate sudden reversal which is the greatest possible trigger of laughter. Similarly, the sudden twist of fate in the story of Purim is the source of the laughter synonymous with Purim. 

Secondly, just like HaShem’s name does not appear anywhere in the Megillah, similarly, HaShem himself appears to be hidden in our lives. The life lesson we need to take to heart is that just as the sudden turn of fate and happy ending in the story of the Megillah could not have been predicted, often in our lives, while we may understandably feel anxious at times, a Jew dare not despair because while seemingly hidden, HaShem is the ultimate director and each of our screenplays is customized for our good with altruistic love.

Rivkah Slonim
Education director, Rohr Chabad Center at Binghamton University, New York

Jewish Mysticism has an uncanny way of illuminating the least expected connections.

The Arizal taught that the roshei tevet an acrostic of the words “et hasoos v’et halevush,” the horse and the clothing, is the same as for the words “et hashamayim v’et ha-aretz,” the heavens and the earth in the first verse of the Torah. Those letters comprise one of the holy names for HaShem. The Chabad rebbes expounded that the secret of creation — heaven and earth — is God’s desire that we transform this lowly temporal existence into a majestic dwelling place for the divine. Not just in the obvious way of embracing that which is overtly holy. Nor even by transforming the otherwise neutral by using it for sacred purpose. But even by extricating the sparks of divinity that have fallen to the other side. The unholy. 

Hurry, says King Ahaseurus to Haman: dress Mordechai, parade him through the streets of the capital city seated on the king’s horse, and proclaim his greatness. Do this with alacrity!

If Haman would not have done so, he would have remained forever beyond the pale, with no tie to holiness. After this deed, there was room for reprisal; some of his descendants became involved in holiness.

What better holiday for highlighting this lesson than Purim, which is all about v’nehafach hu, inverting all paradigms? And what better time than now? Quickly, let’s bring the redemption; let’s expose the source of all earthiness that is in heaven. Even the Hamans.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Professor of Talmud, Yeshiva University

The rabbis understood the name of the biblical book describing the events of the Purim story in a profound way. Esther, the heroine, shares the Hebrew root of the word for hidden; megillah is connected to the idea of uncovering, revealing. Megillat Esther is nothing less than the one book of the Torah that helps us to recognize the hidden ways in which our lives follow the path of divine destiny.

One verse is the key to understanding the concept. It is perhaps the greatest biblical illustration of a fundamental theological principle of our faith. Haman has just described the glorious honor he believes is intended for himself — only to be told by the king in Chapter 6, Verse 10 that the recipient is to be Haman’s archenemy, Mordechai. More, according to the remarkable interpretation of the midrash, whenever the word “king” is used in the Megillah, it refers both to the king below and the king above. It is God himself who has spoken. It is God who decreed that the very same plan devised by the wicked for their personal grandeur will be granted to the righteous. Similarly, Haman will be hanged on the very tree he prepared as gallows for Mordechai.

It is the concept of karma. But it is far more than fate. It is the universe’s divine secret. What goes around comes back around. The hidden message this verse reveals is the remarkable truth that human beings are not punished for their sins — but by them.

David Sacks
Podcasts TorahOniTunes.com

Everything can change in an instant. King David writes in the Psalms, “I look up to the mountains, from where my help will come?” The Vilna Gaon notes that if you take the Hebrew literally, the verse actually says, “I look up to the mountains, from out of nowhere my help will come. 

In other words, salvation can come in the blink of an eye. The phone can ring with good news, you can suddenly meet your soulmate, healing can arrive because nothing is difficult for God. Think about it. God created the entire universe out of nothingness. Certainly, he can bring about whatever he wants, whenever he wants. 

Purim teaches us that these miraculous salvations, which come seemingly out of nowhere, are being prepared for us right in front of our eyes. God does this by guiding the world with his hidden hand. 

When I was a new father, I got a glimpse of how this process works. My newborn was hungry and crying. I started making a bottle for him — the very thing he wanted most — but still he kept crying. I didn’t understand why. Later I learned that newborns can see only a few inches in front of their faces. 

And then I realized that’s all of us!

Purim is the capital of when secrets become revealed. May HaShem open our eyes, and speedily reveal all the blessings he’s been preparing for us since the world was created so that we can serve him with absolute joy.

What’s Happening: Joseph Pulitzer, RBG and Andrew McCabe

FRI MARCH 8

Pulitzer Documentary
Nearly a century before the emergence of “fake news,” Joseph Pulitzer was fighting against the dissemination of false information in America. The new documentary “Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People,” opening at Laemmle theaters, tells the story of the penniless, young Jewish immigrant from Hungary who challenged a popular president and fought for freedom of the press as an essential element of U.S. democracy. Adam Driver (“BlacKkKlansman”) narrates and Liev Schreiber (“Ray Donovan”) provides the voice of Pulitzer. Various times. $12 Monday–Thursday, $13 Friday–Sunday. Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-3836.

SAT MARCH 9

“It’s a Life”
A niece accidentally creates a viral obituary about her character-actor uncle; a mountain climber finds his passion not atop a mountain but in a coffee shop; and daughters feel their father’s presence when they find feathers or see football games. These stories and more comprise “It’s a Life,” the latest production from the Jewish Women’s Theatre that explores the many facets of death and how memories, fears and new understandings transform grief into positive, healing thoughts and actions. Opening tonight at The Braid, the show travels to the Westside, Mid-Wilshire, the San Fernando Valley and the South Bay through March 28. For tickets, times and locations, call (310) 315-1400 or visit the website. 

SUN MARCH 10

Sara Berman

“Mental Health First Aid”
Rabbi Sara Berman leads the adult education class “Mental Health First Aid,” about how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. 8:30 a.m.–1 p.m. $20. Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

USC Hillel Day of Service
In partnership with USC’s Alumni Day of Service, the Jewish Alumni Association holds a service project at Beit T’Shuvah, a faith-based recovery center, with participants meeting current residents and preparing and packaging meals for those enduring homelessness. All friends of USC Hillel and children 10 and older are welcome to fulfill this mitzvah and to join the association’s members for lunch. 10 a.m. Free. Beit T’Shuvah, 8831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135.

Sundays in the Park With Camp Alonim

Sundays at Alonim
During “Sundays in the Park With Camp Alonim,” children can ride horses, feed goats, climb the Alpine tower, play on the swings, make arts-and-crafts and enjoy a kosher barbecue with their families at the 2,700-acre Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley. Noon–4 p.m. $5 adults and children ages 3 and older; free for children 2 and younger. Brandeis-Bardin Campus of American Jewish University, 1101 Peppertree Lane, Simi Valley. (805) 582-4450.

“Grandparent & Me”
Get ready for Purim when American Jewish University and the PJ Library hold “Grandparent & Me,” a story-time and song session for preschoolers 2 to 6 years old and their grandmas and grandpas. Doda Mollie provides the music. Attendees enjoy singing, crafts and an interactive story. 1–2:30 p.m. $25 pre-registration per family, $30 door. Burton Sperber Jewish Community Library, American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1572.  

Continuing Ginsburg’s Legacy
Jessie Kornberg, president and CEO of Bet Tzedek Legal Services; attorney Katherine Ku, a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; and Sonya Passi, founder and CEO of FreeFrom, an organization for domestic violence survivors, discuss who will carry on the 85-year-old Ginsburg’s legacy into the next generation. Titled “Succession Planning for the Revolution,” the event coincides with the final day of the popular Skirball Cultural Center exhibition “Notorious RBG.” 3 p.m. $12 general, $10 seniors and full-time students, free for Skirball members. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. (310) 440-4500.

TUE MAR 12

Aliyah Fairs
Nefesh B’ Nefesh invites anyone considering making aliyah to Israel to “Aliyah Fair & Talks” on the Westside on March 12 and in the San Fernando Valley on March 13. Nearly two dozen vendors and service providers answer questions, and TED Talks-style presentations about life in Israel explore health care, taxes, how to handle investments while becoming a citizen, finding a home and how to land a job. March 12: 5:30–9 p.m. Young Israel of Century City, 9317 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. March 13: Sherman Oaks Courtyard by Marriott, 15433 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (866) 425-4924.

“Anti-Semitism: A Brief History”
Temple Beth Am Rabbi Emeriti Joel Rembaum kicks off the seven-part series, “Anti-Semitism: A Brief History,” which meets on Tuesday evenings through May 7. Blending lectures, text readings and discussion, Rembaum explores the phenomenon that is again at the forefront of Jews’ minds around the world. 7:45 p.m. Free. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353.

Connecting Dads and Teens 
In a program for fathers of teenagers, clinical psychologist Babak Kadkhoda discusses “Connecting With Your Kids on a Deeper Level.” 8 p.m. Free. Sephardic Temple, Levy Hall, Third Floor, 10500 Wilshire Blvd. (310) 475-7000.

A Night at the Entwinery
During an evening called “A Night at the Entwinery,” young adults celebrate the Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) Entwine community-building initiatives in Argentina, the Balkans and the country of Georgia by pairing a glass of red or white from these countries with a discussion of their customs and the important work being done in these regions. Ages 21 and older. 7–9 p.m. $10 in advance, $15 door. V Wine Room, 903 Westbourne Drive, West Hollywood.  (310) 339-9202.

WED MAR 13

Amy Bernstein

“Planet Purim”
One week before Purim, Sinai Temple’s “Planet Purim” offers popular traditional and innovative attractions to celebrate the holiday. Guests at the family-friendly event wear their favorite costumes and enjoy a petting zoo, go-karts, mega-slides, a DJ, live entertainment, carnival games, Xbox sports games, a prize booth, social action projects, basketball games and arts-and-crafts. Adult 18 or older must accompany children. 3:30–7:30 p.m. 4:30 p.m. Purim play and costume parade. $48 all-inclusive wristbands. $15 kosher barbecue meal. Free for adults and children ages 1 and younger. Tickets available at the door. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3228.

Jewish Mindfulness
Kehillat Israel Senior Rabbi Amy Bernstein explores “Jewish Mindfulness and Spirituality: Creating Lives of Depth and Meaning.” 7–9 p.m. Free. Kehillat Israel, 16019 W. Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-2328.

THU MARCH 14 

Shir Chadash Concert
Composer and UCLA doctoral candidate Michel Klein reinterprets a selection of Jewish musical works of the past few decades during the inaugural program of a new Shir Chadash (“New Song”) Concert series. Professional musicians and students from UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music perform Klein’s works that challenge the concept of Jewish music. 9 p.m. Free. Art Share L.A., 801 E. Fourth Place, Los Angeles. (310) 825-4761.

Andrew McCabe

Andrew McCabe
Andrew McCabe, former deputy director of the FBI, discuss his best-selling book, “The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump” at American Jewish University. Just 26 hours before McCabe’s retirement last March, now-former Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe. Expect him to talk about his dismissal, his issues with the Trump administration and more. 7:30 p.m. $25. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1572.


Have an event coming up? Send your information two weeks prior to the event to ryant@jewishjournal.com for consideration. For groups staging an event that requires an RSVP, please submit details about the event the week before the RSVP deadline.

Making More Joy

Photo from Pexels

What is the source of all this Joy in Adar?

Adar is the month when we tap into the joy of life the deepest ways. The Talmud teaches, Mi’shenichnas Adar, Marbim b’Simcha, which we can translate as “when Adar arrives, we increase joy.” But really the root word  רַבִּים means many. So when Adar arrives we can also read this as “when Adar arrives we multiply — with simcha, when Adar arrives we multiply — with joy.” In other words we celebrate the growth of the Jewish people with joy.

Well you might ask, don’t we always welcome the birth of Jewish babies with simcha? Is there a time that we are not going to welcome them with simcha?

Perhaps what this teaches specifically is that there is a special joy added onto the regular joy. Marbim. Additional joy.

All months have a uniqueness – Adar is connected to joy

What might be the additional joy of a baby born in Adar?

It could be because of the decree recorded in the story of Esther declaring a decimation of the Jews was in this month. The decree to end the Jewish people of Ancient Persia forever was issued in Adar. But instead of Adar being the yahrzeit for the Jews of Persia, it stands as a testament to the miracle that transpired. The Jewish people’s prayers and teshuva; the selfless actions of a woman not afraid to risk her life revealing who she was; her standing for the Jewish right to self defense in the face of such the oncoming threat; created the miracle we know of as Purim.

The miracle and joy of Purim came about through the actions of a people who recognized their dependence on Hashem. That they, and their future entirely depend not on their own independence, but on their total dependence on Hashem giving strength to their actions. Esther’s example of self-sacrifice, bravery, and concern for the fate of others was the vehicle for salvation and the harbinger of joyous celebration we now know as Purim.

Experiencing the joy

So this month of Joy could be said to encompass two intertwined ideas; we recognize that our continued existence comes from the desire to fulfill Hashem’s work in this world, and that we must be willing to do the work with a measure of joy, both when in comes to us in ease, and when it comes to us in peril.

This year we have two months due to the Jewish leap year, so I wish your a double portion of Adar joy.

____

Rabbi Yonah is the co-founder of Pico Shul and director of Shabbat Tent.

Angry Persian Grandmas

Screenshot from YouTube.

As I was giving a talk for hundreds of people at a local Purim program last year, I was nearly booed off the stage by some elderly Persians who wanted to hear only a classical Persian musical concert. One old woman stood up and screamed “Baseh!” (“Enough!) so many times that it seemed as though I was subjecting her to torture in a North Korean prison.

The strangest part of the incident was that seemingly none of the younger audience members, who were seated way in the back, understood that the front half of the room wanted to pelt me with rotten cucumbers because it had not realized that the program would feature remarks as well as live music.

In a well-intentioned gesture that went terribly wrong, one of the young musicians onstage behind me thought it would be a good idea to play haunting notes on her violin to accompany my heartfelt words and throw some support my way. This only emboldened the now-shouting older men and women, who believed that even the musicians were trying to tell me to get the hell off the stage.

In my 15 years of public speaking, I never thought I’d be yelled at by a bunch of Persian grandmothers, and I was grateful that my family had not accompanied me that evening. They would have thrown a cucumber at the head of the woman who had shouted the first, “Baseh!” And not a Persian cucumber — one of those mighty English ones.

When my anger and humiliation subsided, I realized that the people who had shouted at me were just being old Persians.

When my anger and humiliation subsided, I realized that the people who had shouted at me were just being old Persians. That did not exonerate them for their rudeness, nor did it reduce their behavior to patronizing stereotypes, but it did comfort me, because it served as a reminder that many a grumpy, sassy old Persian still lived in this city, and no doubt had incredible stories to tell, if anyone only bothered to ask.

Elderly Persians are incredibly endearing — old women with names such as Elaheh (“Goddess”) and Ehteram (“Respect”), and old men with names such as Jahangir (“Conqueror of the World”) and Farzin (“One Who Is Learned”). Their great-grandchildren have names like Jayden and Madison.

I love these folks — the men who gather every day at the picnic tables at La Cienega Park to play backgammon and reminisce about a time when they were young and Iran was free; the women at the Persian kosher supermarkets who look for the “good” cucumbers for minutes on end, because there is no one back home to care for anymore and, to their great heartbreak, they now have all the time in the world.

These men and women possess the kind of resilience that I could only hope for. Their stories and sacrifices humble me when I think that I’m so impressive because I know how to use a Walgreens app to order photo prints.

It’s imperative that younger generations of Iranian-American Jews engage their elders, whether their grandparents, who are often ignored at Shabbat meals in preference of Instagram scrolls, or even reaching out to older ones who they have never met. I have derived immeasurable meaning from simply visiting a few Iranian-Jewish elder care facilities in West Los Angeles on Friday afternoons bearing flowers, grape juice, challah and gratitude. The residents’ appreciation makes me happy to be alive.

I recount the story from last Purim not to foment anger or stereotypes against my community, but to show readers that, like Purim itself, there are beauties hidden in our midst, and sometimes those beauties include the charmingly undiplomatic ways of a generation that is slipping through our fingers.

And perhaps one day, a few decades from now, I will give a public address to a new generation of Iranian-American Jews that has little knowledge of the heartbreaking struggles and beautiful survival of its great-grandparents, a generation that will tap on its iPhone XXXVs, tune me out and instruct its driverless cars to be ready once my soporific speech is over.

At that point, I will pause my remarks, look sternly into the eyes of this young, selfie-obsessed audience and shout, “Baseh!”


Tabby Refael was born in Tehran after the Islamic Revolution. She previously served as executive director and co-founder of 30 Years After, a group whose goal is to promote civic action and leadership among Iranian-American Jews.

Inclusion

Image via Yachad.org

The following is a transcript of a speech at a recent Bnai David-Judea Shabbaton. One part of the program was in conjunction with Yachad.

Yachad, The National Jewish Council for Disabilities is a thriving global organization dedicated to addressing the needs of all Jewish individuals with disabilities and ensuring their inclusion in every aspect of Jewish life.” 


Purim. It’s a story of good guys and bad guys, with a cast of characters that includes an inebriated king; a disobedient queen; a new queen with a secret; a pair of clumsy conspirators; and Darth Vader with a colonial-style hat. And we celebrate וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא — the sudden reversal of fortune — by wearing costumes, putting on silly plays, and eating and drinking way too much.

All this may seem an odd juxtaposition with the subject of inclusion.  Though when you think about it….masks, costumes… Purim is perhaps the one time of year when we’re all judged — in fact want to be judged — by external appearances.  But people with special needs are often and unfairly judged that way all the time.  Though on Purim, costumes allow everyone to be included.

Actually, the tradition to celebrate Purim by dressing in costume is ironic, since the story the Megillah tells is so caught up in identity.  And identity is Purim’s real connection to inclusion.

Consider, for instance, that despite being a people מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים, scattered and dispersed, by the time of the Megillah the distinction between the remaining tribes of Israel has been supplanted by a common identity: יְהוּדִים, Jews. He’s not Mordechai the Benjaminite; he’s מרדכי היהודי.  That the Persians used a one-size-fits-all label is no surprise; but the Megillah makes it clear that the exiles adopted it as well.

One could argue that this shared designation is the seed of וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא. For the first time in our history, we’re truly united by a common identity.

Still, it’s a fragile community, as Mordechai instructs Esther to conceal even this fragment of identity (her שארית ישראל, if you will).  So she hides behind a mask and distances herself with a queen-Esther costume.  וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא begins in earnest when Mordechai realizes that Esther’s mask and costume not only hide her, but simultaneously isolate her from the community.  She’s both afraid to be seen and is reluctant to see.  He awakens her to a responsibility towards the נֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיהָ, the community she’s left behind.

So beneath the broad arc of triumph of good over evil, the Megillah is a story of community and inclusion. Esther’s actions demonstrate that we must remember those who, metaphorically speaking, do not live in the palace. Mordechai is our conscience, reminding us of the נֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֵינו.

The word נֶּחֱשָׁלִים appears only once in Tanach — in Parshat Zachor, which we read every year on the Shabbat before Purim:

אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ, וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ — וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ

“Remember what Amalek did to you along the way: when you were weary and worn out, they attacked all who were lagging behind…”

Note that it wasn’t Amalek who was responsible for their exclusion.  We were tired (עָיֵף) and worn out (יָגֵעַ)… and we neglected those in the community who fell behind, הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים.

But just who are the נֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֵינו — the left-behind, the excluded?

Of course, there’s the traditional triumvirate of the גר יתום ואלמנה — the stranger, the orphan, the widow.  But even this excludes those with special needs.

Like Esther, people with special needs sometimes hide, or are isolated, behind their masks.  Esther’s mask is described as יְפַת-תֹּאַר וְטוֹבַת מַרְאֶה, beautiful — but we soon learn that she’s more than just a pretty face.  How often do we give those with special needs a chance to show what they can do?

Consider my daughter Aviya.  She’s happy, friendly, outgoing.  She loves noses and circles.  She particularly enjoys playing with words — saying them backwards, reversing letters.  She doesn’t read books, she reads “koobs”; she comes home from school everyday on the “sub”.  She does this not because of her challenges; she does this because she’s clever and enjoys being silly.  It’s part of what makes her special.  But too often a perceived mask and costume leave her excluded, and leave her endearing traits unknown, unacknowledged, unappreciated.

To be sure, there are some things she can’t do and maybe will never be able to do.  There are some things she may never understand.  But what she does understand are feelings of exclusion.  When she goes up to other kids, they usually stare at her.  Though she doesn’t always understand this, she often feels their silence and their distance.

I worry that soon, when Aviya becomes a young adult, many grown-ups will respond to her the same way.  And despite a tremendous vocabulary, she can be hard to understand — and gets so frustrated at having to repeat herself that she often retreats into herself.  Or hides behind a koob.

She and so many others in our community are the נֶּחֱשָׁלִים בתוכנו — the excluded in our midst.

The word נֶּחֱשָׁלִים is often translated as “weak ones,” from the word חלש. However the shoresh of נֶּחֱשָׁלִים would appear to be  ח-ש-ל, not ח-ל-ש.  But חלש is the word the Torah uses to describe the battle with Amalek:  יהושע and his troops did not “defeat” Amalek; rather, ויחלוש יהושע – he “weakened them”.

So too, it seems נֶּחֱשָׁלִים should really be נֶּחֱלָשִים.  Not חשל but חלש. This is an example of a linguistic process called metathesis — the reversal of sounds or letters in a word.  And it’s not all that uncommon. For instance, כתונת is the source of the english word “tunic”; or the mispronunciation “nucyular”; or Aviya, who comes home everyday on the “sub”.

Usually this flipping of sound can survive to become part of the language only when the mispronunciation would not be confused with an established word. Thus the hebrew word כבש has the synonym כשב.

What makes נֶּחֱשָׁלִים remarkable is that its apparent shoresh, ח-ש-ל, already exists:  חשל is the forging or shaping of metal to strengthen it.  And not just metal — as Kelly Clarkson would say: מה שלא הורג מחשל.

So חשל and חלש have essentially opposite meanings.

Maybe all this is not a coincidence — maybe we’re being told

אל תאמר נֶּחֱלָשִים אלא נֶּחֱשָׁלִים

Don’t describe them by what they are  — weak, excluded — but as what we should all be  — members of a strong community.

Perhaps the text is reminding us not just of the actions of Amalek, but also how to correct our own failings. That, despite a common identity, more is required to forge a community.  For the עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ — we, the weary and worn out — to be strengthened, we need to include the excluded. וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא.

In other words, Kelly Clarkson got it wrong: it’s really

אלא שמחשלים אחרים, הוא חישל אותו

Those who strengthen others, strengthen themselves.  As individuals.  As a community.

So this Purim,

  • Remember to let Mordechai be our conscience and Esther our action hero.
  • Don’t forget that a mask — yours or another’s —  obscures ones view, and that external appearances are mere costumes.
  • Recall the words of Shoshanat Ya’akov, which we sing after reading the Megillah,
    להודיע שכל קוויך לא יבושו ולא ייכלמו לנצח כל החוסים בך
  • “…to make known that all who hope and trust in You
  • will never be ashamed or humiliated…”
  • Remember that הִתְהַפְּכוּת, reversal, begins with our sense of, and commitment to, the entire community of יְהוּדִים.

We should remember this as we scroll through the Megillah next week… or any time we settle in to read a good koob.

I Forget What This Poem is About – A Poem for Haftarah Tetzaveh / Shabbat Zachor by Rick Lupert

Shabbat of Remembrance –
I’m having trouble remembering
all the things I’m told

my biological DVR should hold.
I have a vague memory of
standing at a mountain

but the details of what
I was supposed to do with
Amalek’s sheep are fuzzy.

Kill them all? Can that be right?
That doesn’t sound like me.
Is this why Saul almost lost

his anointed job? Because he
wouldn’t kill the sheep? I had to
look up the word prostrate

because I forgot what it meant
or maybe I never knew. I can’t
put my face on the floor for

every mistake. It’s so dirty like
the floor of the sea was, which I
remember every time I

put on my shoes. Or dirty
like the gallows after Haman and
his sons hung there for days.

I eat a three sided cookie
to remember this because
nothing paints a picture like food.

Haman and his great great
no-one really knows ancestor Agag
their names written on our shoes.

Our mandate – to wipe them
from our memories, as every year
we remember them.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created 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 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “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 “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “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.

Make a Hamantashen Costume for Purim

Photos by Jonathan Fong

r Purim? Celebrate in style by dressing up as a giant hamantashen. Besides being a fun costume that will make anyone the star of the festivities, it also can be a starting point to teach kids — and anyone unfamiliar with the customs of Purim — about the history, meaning and significance of this three-cornered cookie.

Creating your own hamantashen costume is easy with a few yards of felt. Also, because it’s put together with a glue gun, there’s no sewing involved. And that’s another reason to celebrate.

What you’ll need:
2 yards light brown felt
1 yard felt for filling
(your choice of color)
Scissors
Hot glue gun

1.

1. Cut out a large circular piece of light brown felt that is between 30 and 36 inches. I traced a circle with a 32-inch diameter hula hoop and then cut the circle with scissors. You can purchase felt by the yard at your local fabric store.

2.

2. Cut out another large circular piece of felt that is the same size as the first, but in a color to represent your filling. It can be red, purple, brown, etc. — your choice. Then scrunch it into a mound and hot glue the “filling” to the middle of the light brown felt.

3.

3. Fold in three sides of the outer circle of felt to form a triangle. Fill the folds with felt scraps to make the hamantashen three-dimensional, and hot glue the folds in place.

4.

4. Hot glue the seams where the folds meet at the three corners. You may want to fill in these sections with more felt scraps to plump up the “cookie.”

5.

5. Trace a triangle onto another piece of light brown felt with your finished hamantashen and cut it out. Hot glue one side of the triangle to one side of the hamantashen, but leave a 12-inch section in the middle open so you can stick your head through.

When Purim is over, this costume can be repurposed as a hamantashen-shaped dog bed. The three sides of the cookie even act as bolsters for the dog’s head for cushioned comfort. Bonus points if your dog happens to be named Esther.


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.

What’s Happening in Jewish L.A. Feb. 23- Mar. 1: Anne Frank’s Stepsister, Purim Events and More

Eva Schloss

FRI FEB 23
“THE FORBIDDEN CONVERSATION”

Gili Getz

Writer and actor Gili Getz performs his one-man, one-act play that explores the American-Jewish community’s difficulty with discussing Israel in an honest way. A former Israeli military photographer, Getz stages his performance as part of Avi Shabbat, a Shabbat dinner held on college campuses that honors the life of Avi Schaefer, who served in the Israeli army and was struck and killed by a drunken driver in 2010. A Shabbat dinner and discussion will follow the performance. 6 p.m. Free. Loyola Marymount University, St. Roberts Auditorium. (310) 568-6131. For additional information, email zachary.zysman@lmu.edu.

“MIRACLE SHABBAT”

The Miracle Project and Valley Beth Shalom/Temple Aliyah’s OurSpace Kolot Tikva Choir, under the direction of Chazzan Mike Stein and choir leader Shahar Weiner, present a musical collaboration of prayer and spirit in observance of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month and Autism Awareness Month. Complimentary parking. Community dinner follows. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Free. Elaine Breslow Institute at Beit T’Shuvah, 8847 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 204-5200. beittshuvah.org.

“HIP-HOP SHABBAT”

Temple Isaiah puts a contemporary spin on Shabbat with a service featuring hip-hop, R&B, electronic dance music, electric guitar and samples of music by Dr. Dre, the Fugees, Usher, P. Diddy and Sia. Temple Isaiah Rabbi Joel Nickerson, Cantor Tifani Coyot and songleader Danny Rubenstein lead the eclectic, high-energy and mind-expanding service. 6:45 p.m. Free. Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-2772. templeisaiah.com.

SUN FEB 25
AN EVENING WITH EVA SCHLOSS

Eva Schloss

Eva Schloss, a Holocaust survivor and stepsister of Anne Frank, discusses her wartime experiences and what we can learn from the past. Erin Gruwell, an educator focused on tolerance who inspired the film “Freedom Writers,” interviews Schloss. David Suissa, editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal, emcees. Presented by the Jewish Journal, Jewish Community Center and Chabad of Downtown L.A. VIP reception 5 p.m., doors open 6 p.m., program 7 p.m. Students $10, general admission starts at $40. RSVP to nathan@miller-ink.com or meira@miller-ink.com or (310) 571-8264. Los Angeles Theater, 615 S. Broadway, Los Angeles. evaschloss.com.

RABBI AARON LERNER LECTURE

Rabbi Aaron Lerner discusses “The Present and Future of Jewish Life, Learning and Israel on Campus.” For the past five years, Lerner has helped expand Hillel UCLA’s leadership training program to include about 150 student leaders, who reach nearly 1,700 Jewish students annually at UCLA. Brunch 10 a.m., lecture 11 a.m., Q-and-A to follow. Free. RSVP at Kehillat Ma’arav office. Kehillat Ma’arav, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566. km-synagogue.org.

“WHY HARRY MET SALLY”

Author Joshua Louis Moss discusses his 2017 book, “Why Harry Met Sally: Subversive Jewishness, Anglo-Christian Power and the Rhetoric of Modern Love,” with USC Cinema and Media Studies professor Michael Renov. The event is part of Casden Conversations, a scholarly initiative of the USC Casden Institute that brings together students, faculty and the greater Los Angeles community for discussions about Jewish life. Co-organized by IKAR. 4-5:30 p.m. Free. USC, Doheny Memorial Library, Room 240, 3550 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles. (213) 740-1744. dornsife.usc.edu/casden-institute/events.

MON FEB 26
AN EVENING WITH LARRY ELDER

Larry Elder

Author, radio talk show host and “The Sage From South Central” Larry Elder discusses “America in the Era of Trump” during a Jewish Republican Alliance event. Expect Elder’s take-no-prisoners style. 7:30–9:30 p.m. Advance tickets $18, tickets at the door $20. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (805) 380-7721, ext. 701. jewishrepublicanalliance.org.

TUE FEB 27
“FACES OF AMERICA”

The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Asian Jewish Initiative convenes “Faces of America: Immigrant Stories From the Diverse Asian Continent.” Panelists are Tabby Davoodi, co-founder of 30 Years After and a child refugee from post-revolutionary Iran; Halim Dhanidina, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge and the first Muslim judge in California; Karen Korematsu, daughter of civil rights activist Fred Korematsu and founding executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute; and Angela Oh, a mediator of civil rights cases and a second-generation Korean-American community advocate. ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind moderates. A light dessert reception follows. Advance registration required. Registration 6:30 p.m., program 7 p.m. Free. Democracy Center at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 446-4228. la.adl.org/event/faces-of-america.


Purim Events

SAT FEB 24
KOL AMI’S BEATLES PURIM

Rabbi Denise Eger and Congregation Kol Ami host a Beatles-themed Purim celebration, “Sgt. Esther’s Shushan Hearts Club Band.” The night begins with Havdalah and a free Persian dinner. Then, Kol Ami members and the house band retell the story of Purim through the music of the Beatles. All ages welcome. 7-10 p.m. Free. RSVP required for dinner. Email reception@kol-ami.org or call (323) 606-0996. Congregation Kol Ami, 1200 N. La Brea Ave., West Hollywood. kol-ami.org.

SUN FEB 25
STEPHEN WISE TEMPLE PURIM

A Stephen Wise Temple carnival for all ages features games, prizes, food, rides and costumes. Admission includes all rides and games. Food not included. 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Early bird tickets for kids 4–18 are $38; on Feb. 25, $50. Parents and kids 3 and younger admitted free. On Feb. 28, the synagogue holds an evening of music, dancing, food and schmoozing for grown-ups, featuring cocktails, appetizers and hors d’oeuvresataschen. 21-and-older only. RSVP required. 7 p.m. Free. Stephen Wise Temple, 500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561. wisela.org/purim.

WED FEB 28
“THE ROCKY HORA PURIM SCHPIEL”

An interactive Megillah experience transports the Kehillat Ma’arav sanctuary into Mordechai’s Shushan. Attendees dress in their finest traditional Purim garb and costumes. A raffle fundraiser and dairy meal top off the festivities. 5:30 pm. $10. Kehillat Ma’arav Synagogue, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566. km-synagogue.org.

“STRANGER PURIM”

IKAR invites you to its Justice Carnival and Purim celebration. Enjoy food, fellowship, a drink and a spiel. Costumes encouraged. Megillah reading 6:30 p.m., party 8:15 p.m. $15 in advance, $20 at the door (tickets not required for Megillah and spiel). Food and drink tickets separate, $5 to $15. Busby’s East, 5364 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870.
ikar-la.org.

“SHE WILL ROCK YOU”

A 1970s rock-inspired musical mashup of the story of Esther and the songs of Queen lights up Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (TEBH). Rock out like a champion with fine wine and premier beer. TEBH and Temple Isaiah clergy participate in the spiel and Megillah reading. Cocktail hour and appetizers 7 p.m., spiel 8 p.m. Cocktail event $36. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-3737. tebh.org.

PURIM AT PICO SHUL

Pico-Robertson congregation Pico Shul holds “Bluegrass, Moonshine, Mitzot and Megillah,” a Purim celebration featuring a speedy and fun Megillah reading. Yee-haw! Evening service 6:30 p.m., megillah and moonshine 7 p.m. Free. Pico Shul, 9116 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. On March 1, after 10 a.m. services and an 11 a.m. Megillah reading, a Purim feast will be served at 5 p.m. Dinner $36. Pico Shul, 9116 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. picoshul.org.

MISHKON TEPHILO PURIM

A Megillah reading at Mishkon Tephilo is followed by dinner and dancing. Comedian Jackie Tohn (“Glow,” “A Futile and Stupid Gesture”), poet Rachel Kann and DJ Jeremy participate. Bring your own beer. Doors and drinks 7:30 p.m. $10. Mishkon Tephilo, 206 Main St., Venice. (310) 392-3029. mishkon.org/purim.

THU MARCH 1
PURIM COMEDY AND SCREENING

Comedian and impersonator Michael Sherman tells the story of Al Jolson, a Jewish jazz singer who hid behind his identity by portraying an Old South minstrel masquerading in blackface. As with Purim, a true identity is hidden behind the persona. A screening of “The Jazz Singer,” the 1927 film starring Jolson, follows. 7-10 p.m. $8. Hollywood Temple Beth El, Sapper Hall, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 656-3150. facebook.com/htbel.

The Sexiest, Healthiest Hamantashen You’ve Ever Had

I admit I had to refresh myself on the story of Purim before coming up with a recipe for this week’s column. Growing up primarily in the United States with two Israeli parents who didn’t celebrate much outside of Rosh Hashanah and Passover, left a gap in my understanding of some Jewish holidays. Also, I didn’t attend a Jewish or Hebrew school, so it’s sad to say the only time I remember wearing a costume was on Halloween.

What I do remember is my first taste of Osnai Haman (“Haman’s ears”) in New York City, generally called hamantashen (“Haman’s hats,” traditional Purim pastry). I was invited to attend a Shabbat meal at the home of a Jewish family, and the taste of the sweet filling with earthy poppy seeds and buttery pastry became firmly etched in my mind.

Apparently, the bar was set too high from that first taste of what I like to call the “Jewish Pastries.” The trouble was that the store-bought versions, in the U.S. and even in Israel, always fell short of the mark for me. They tended to be too soft, too sweet or too bland for my taste, so I filed them under the “not worth the calories” folder in my mind, with hamantashen and rugelach falling firmly into that category.

Because I’m a pastry chef who is more interested in eating savory food than sweets, a dessert needs to be pretty special for me to indulge. I’m far too lazy to spend my limited cooking currency at home on anything other than real food, so hamantashen was never on my radar.

I need extra motivation to bake something sweet at home after a work week filled with day-to-day desserts and special-occasion cake orders. By coincidence, one of my friends who is gluten intolerant told me she was coming over early the next morning for a quick coffee. This prompted me to run to the kitchen to make something special for her. The bonus: Her Israeli husband would be thrilled when I sent her home with a Purim care package.

Unfortunately, it’s rare to find poppy seeds here in Uganda, and I ran out of my stash in the freezer. This was now a challenge!

Because I grow raspberries in my garden, I always have homemade sugar-free raspberry jam in my fridge. I sweeten it with a form of powdered stevia and thicken it with chia seeds, as they gel nicely when added to liquid.  Feel free to use the sugar substitute of your choice or use real sugar in the same quantity.

Here is a sensuous hamantashen recipe that won’t leave you needing to spend half the afternoon in the gym.

This jam is heavenly on top of yogurt or as the crowning glory on timeless desserts such as Malabi, a brilliant custard served in Israel and all over the Middle East. As an aside, legend has it that Malabi originated in Persia from the name of a cook who created it for a sultan. If you don’t feel like making a filling, it’s perfectly acceptable to use any quality jam or preserves in this recipe.    

Because I had just read the story of the fiercely brave Persian Queen Esther, and how she saved the Jewish people from inevitable demise, I decided to infuse my pastry with an exotic Persian twist. I used a few drops of rosewater mixed into my jam along with some zest of an orange. Next, I needed to replace the traditional flour with something gluten-free. Almond flour fits the bill because not only is it easy to work with but almonds are a fantastically Middle Eastern ingredient.

So here it is, a sexy hamantashen recipe if I do say so myself, and one that won’t leave you needing to spend half the afternoon in the gym. My friend was blown away and didn’t believe that they were gluten-free until I pinky swore her half a dozen times. Best of all, I followed the Purim tradition of giving to those less fortunate — and by that, I mean all gluten-intolerant folks out there. How satisfying to think that the evil Haman’s silly hat would be replicated as a pastry all these centuries later and eaten by Jews all over the world. I’m sure Queen Esther would approve.

GLUTEN-FREE HAMANTASHEN
2 cups finely ground almond flour
¼ cup powdered stevia, sugar
substitute or granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 ½ tablespoons melted browned butter,
cooled
1 egg
1/8 teaspoon liquid stevia extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Raspberry and rose chia jam
(recipe below)
Powdered sugar or sugar substitute
for garnish

RASPBERRY AND ROSE CHIA JAM
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen raspberries
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon orange zest
¼ cup powdered stevia, sugar substitute
or granulated sugar
1 teaspoon rosewater (optional)
3 tablespoons chia seeds

Place berries, water, zest and stevia or
sugar in a small saucepan and simmer until berries soften. Mash berries until a jam-like consistency is achieved.

Place in a glass jar or bowl and stir in rosewater and chia seeds. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of two hours to set.

Makes about 1 ¼ cups

For cookies:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking tray with a Silpat or parchment paper. Sift almond flour into a bowl to remove lumps, and add sugar substitute and salt.

Brown butter by putting in a small saucepan and heating gently while stirring until the butter is golden brown.  Strain out milk particles by running through a sieve and let cool. Beat together egg, liquid stevia, orange zest, vanilla and cooled melted brown butter. Add to dry ingredients, stirring until a dough forms. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to make it easier to roll out.

Lightly flour parchment paper or a Silpat using a teaspoon of almond flour and use a rolling pin to flatten dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a drinking glass or a cookie cutter, punch out circles of your desired size and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.

Use a sharp knife or offset spatula to gently peel each circle off the surface without tearing. Continue to roll out and cut circles out of dough until it is used up. It should yield about 20 circles.

Place a circle of dough in front of you. Dollop a heaping teaspoon of jam or filling of your choice in the center. Pull together three sides of the circle to form a triangle shape and pinch together corners. Place on baking tray and put in the fridge to set for 30 minutes.

Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until the edges of the pastry triangles begin to brown and turn golden. Do not overcook.

Let cool on a rack. Store in a closed container in the fridge. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

Makes 20 hamantashen

Next week, look my recipe for Sephardic salmon cakes, roasted zucchini and tahini.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

Badass Queen of Purim

Screenshot from YouTube.

How do I love Vashti? Let me count the ways.

In case you aren’t familiar with this woman of the Bible, Vashti makes only a brief appearance at the beginning of the Book of Esther, in which we read the Purim story. We meet her as Queen Vashti, married to the King Ahasuerus, who rules across the Persian empire.

King Ahasuerus seems to care a lot about appearances. First, he hosts a six-month display of wealth for his subjects, an ego-stoking extravaganza. Then, he invites all the men of the kingdom to a feast, complete with open bar. One week in, when the guests are good and drunk, the king commands his queen to appear before the people and show off her beauty, wearing the royal crown.

And Vashti refuses.

Why does she refuse? There are many interpretations, of course, this being a Jewish story. The most classic one, on which many later traditions are based, is that the king asked Vashti to appear before the people naked, wearing only her royal crown.

Whether or not we accept the naked theory, Vashti does not comply with the king’s desire that she display her beauty before hordes of drunken men. His advisers are horrified. They urge him to banish her, so that the women of the kingdom will not wonder if they, too, should begin to think for themselves and disobey their husbands.

And so Vashti is banished from the kingdom, leaving the job of queen vacant, to be filled by Esther, the conventional heroine of the Purim story.

When a sacred text is discussed over many centuries, its characters take on the form of current events. In ancient Babylonia, the rabbis imagined Vashti as a wanton idolater. The earliest modern feminists, in the 1800s, lauded her as a model of liberation. And in our particular moment, Vashti resonates most obviously with the #MeToo movement as she refuses to comply with workplace sexual harassment in the palace.

When the king asks Queen Vashti to appear and display her beauty, she faces a fundamental human question: Should I do what is asked of me by others?

The term “sexual harassment” is new, but as we see from this story, it’s almost incredible how ancient and pervasive the act is. From her vantage point as queen of the Persian empire, our heroine sees this abuse of power for what it is and chooses to abdicate the throne rather than acquiesce. Courageously, Vashti gives up her wealth and power in exchange for … well, who knows what happens to a divorced ex-royal in ancient Persia?

But gender politics are not the only lens through which Vashti’s story has powerful resonance. I also love how her refusal can be an inner, spiritual teaching, as well.

When the king asks Queen Vashti to appear and display her beauty, she faces a fundamental human question: Should I do what is asked of me by others? Or do I, instead, dare to live by my own instincts?

We face this question in infinite ways. It can come in the form of deciding whether to speak the truth about our sexual orientation or gender identity. It can challenge us when we feel drawn to become more or less religious than our families of origin. Or it can manifest in terms of dreams for how to live our lives — I think of my high school friend, a gifted classical pianist who passionately wanted to pursue music but whose parents insisted she enter a fast-track, pre-med program.

And on a daily level, this question appears in decisions as simple as how to represent ourselves on social media. Do we include our struggles or present only a carefully curated spread of perfect-looking moments, as Ahasuerus presents the riches of his kingdom, as he seeks to present his perfect wife?

Vashti can inspire us to ask: What happens when we refuse to dwell on the level of appearances and see, instead, with our hearts? What happens when we refuse to aim for admiration, perfection, accolades, and instead make our goal simple: to be our most authentic selves?

If you dress up for Purim, keep Vashti in mind and be the queen of yourself.


Alicia Jo Rabins is a writer, musician and Torah teacher who lives in Portland, Ore.

ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Udi Goren

Udi Goren
“Supermarket, Purim,” 2015

A supermarket in the northern coastal city of Nahariya, Israel, on Purim. “Supermarket, Purim” is part of the international exhibition “Passage to Israel,” which opens on March 8 at the Sagamore Hotel in the South Beach area of Miami Beach, as part of a three-month “Peace 70” initiative (passagetoIsrael.org).

Celebrating the Absurd

There are different sorts of happiness.

There is a quiet happiness, an inner sense of bliss, the innocent joy of a small child, one of wonderment and gratitude — a happiness to carry with you at all times.

Then there is the seasonal happiness that blooms for all to see, bursting out in song, in dance and in celebration of Sukkot, Simchat Torah — all the festivals of the Jewish calendar — as well as a wedding, a birth, or any occasion that provides a time to feast and rejoice with family and friends.

All very sensible, normal sorts of happiness.

Purim is not normal. It’s nuts. A rational person is hard put to celebrate Purim, as are all those who believe they know who they are. Because the joy of Purim means to leave all that behind.

Purim is the ultimate joy, and the only way to experience that joy is to break out of yourself — not by making yourself happy, not by doing things you enjoy, and not by sticking to your life, your friends, your family and being the person you are so comfortable being.

No. By playing the clown, by taking the risk of making yourself look like a total idiot, by allowing the insanity within you to burst out, you can bring smiles to strangers on the street and uplift all those around you — even those who had lost all hope for joy.

The light of Purim knows no bounds.

Why Purim? What happened in Shushan that is cause for such madness?

Purim is the day the Jewish people took ownership of their Jewishness, at a time when it was utter madness to do so.

That’s the subtext to the Megillah that is often ignored. We’re told that Haman’s decree of total annihilation was upon the “Yehudim” — the Jews. The implication is that any Jew could easily slip out of this predicament. Any Jew could be totally clear of danger by just saying, “What, me Jewish? I speak Farsi. I dress Farsi. I eat Farsi food. I celebrate Farsi celebrations. I’m just another Farsi like you.”

Purim is not normal. It’s nuts. A rational person is hard put to celebrate Purim, as are all those who believe they know who they are.

And that, it could be argued, would be the sensible thing to do. You’ve lost your land. Your temple lies in ruins. What gives you a right to exist? What sense does it make to have “laws that are different from all other people” while you are “scattered among the nations”? Why identify with your people, practices and beliefs when that identity means only persecution and hatred?

God has abandoned you, for heaven’s sake!

Given all that, what the Jews did was absurd. They said, “We are Jews. We were born Jews. We will die Jews.” They fasted and prayed, and then fought for their lives. Why? There is no explanation. But we are still here. Absurdly.

I identify with that. In a certain way, it happened again with my generation.

I am a child of the post-Holocaust. My generation is made up of those raised on the image of the Jew as a skeleton behind the barbed wire of Auschwitz.

When there was a Holocaust documentary on TV, I had to watch it. At the local Jewish Community Center lounge where I went to hang out with friends, the entire back wall was covered with a mural of those deathly figures. When I was schlepped to the synagogue for whatever occasion, I doubt the rabbi ever delivered a sermon without mentioning the 6 million.

The message was drilled, pounded and welded relentlessly into our little minds, until it became part of our neural circuits: We are the people they hate. If someone is looking for a people to persecute, to blame, to despise, to obliterate from the face of the earth, here we are.

As for God and our religion, there was only one conclusion a sensible person could come to: God had abandoned us and the deal was off.

Please tell me why any kid would want to stay in this club?

And then something crazy happened. Barely a quarter-century had passed since the implementation of the Final Solution, and a Jewish renewal began to flourish. We returned, perhaps not in droves, but with pride, with chutzpah, with love — madly embracing that which our parents and grandparents had quite reasonably dropped by the wayside.

Why? I don’t know. We are a crazy people. We can’t let go of our God.

In the Babylonian Talmud, Rava says, “On Purim, you must get drunk until you don’t know the difference between ‘Cursed is Haman’ and ‘Blessed is Mordechai.’ ”

We are drunk with wine — a deep, rich wine aged over millennia. The wine of a love that can never be lost, of a marriage that can never be broken.

So, What Should You Do On Purim?

Send gifts of food to random Jews you don’t know — just because they are your fellow Jews.

Listen to the Megillah, by night and by day, and make a fool of yourself booing Haman.

Feast with your friends and family and total strangers — and don’t worry about what anyone thinks of you.

Most important, go to those who are forgotten — on the street, in retirement homes, in prison cells, in jobs they can’t take a day off from to celebrate — people locked into believing they are defined by those things and unable to escape. Make a total fool of yourself, and bring those people the liberation of joy.


Tzvi Freeman is an author and senior editor at Chabad.org.

Unmasking Purim, Fighting Amalek: Behind the whimsy of this holiday lie some deep lessons for living.

Many people are preparing their Purim carnivals, skits and spiels. I wish they would stop, just for a moment. All that energy devoted to the kids and to having fun is good, but there is more to consider. The frivolity of Purim masks an evil — and a richness of tradition on how to fight that evil, an effort from which we can be easily distracted.

First, a little about the holiday. Its name comes from the Persian word “pur” (plural, “purim”), which means something like “dice.” Haman tossed the dice to determine the date to annihilate the Jews. We are also told that the Hebrew translation of pur is “goral,” which can mean “chance” or “fate.”  (From one perspective, life feels like chance. From another, it feels like fate.) So instead of calling the holiday Purim, try calling it “Dice”— or, even better, “Chance.”

The story of Chance is told through the rich fabric of the book of Esther. The observance is simple: read the entire Scroll of Esther (the whole megillah) on the 14th day of Adar (the 15th of Adar in some ancient cities). In addition, Esther 9:22 tells us that Purim is to be a time of feasting and gladness, of sending dishes of food to friends and gifts to the poor.

A single line in the Talmud, Megillah 7b, inspires much wobbly to incoherent merriment. “Rova said: A person is obligated to become intoxicated (livsumi) to the point that one does not know the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordecai.’” (Many people who fulfill few other commandments are punctilious in the observance of Rova’s opinion.) The “gladness” tradition is probably the source of the costumes, carnivals, skits and spiels.

In traditional synagogues on the Sabbath before Purim, we read these verses from The Torah: “Remember (zachor) what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt, how they came upon on the road and cut off all the weak people at your rear, when you were parched and weary, not revering God” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).

We learn from this tradition that in addition to the other Purim customs we are supposed to “remember Amalek.”

“Remembering,” or perhaps better, “being mindful of” is an inner-life commandment. It is hard to measure whether you have fulfilled it. Perhaps one just has to read the few biblical verses that describe who Amalek is and what Amalek did.

The inner-life traditions (Kabbalah, Mussar, Chasidism) require much more. These traditions — more focused on transformation than just outer observance — require studying and internalizing the meaning of Amalek as a path for spiritual and moral growth. Our inner-life traditions see the biblical Amalek as reflecting a psychological archetype. In essence, what Amalek did then, Amalek is always doing now inside of every human being.

In case you don’t remember Amalek so well, here’s some help: Genesis 36:11 tells us that the progenitor of the tribe of Amalek was the grandson of Esau, the fraternal twin of Jacob/Israel. Esau was the father of Eliphaz. Eliphaz had both proper wives and a concubine named Timna with whom Eliphaz bore Amalek. Amalek, then, is the grandson of dispossessed Esau, dispossessed again by being the son of a concubine. We can only theorize as to what caused Amalek’s hatred toward the Israelites.

Perhaps in an unhappy, forlorn state, Amalek sees himself as a victim of Jacob/Israel stealing the birthright from his grandfather Esau. Instead of moving on, Amalek chooses to fixate, stew and hate. The children of Israel become the focus of his envious hatred. What they have is rightfully his, Amalek believes. This hatred is passed down in tribal consciousness, maybe even as a core self-understanding: “We are those who hate the people Israel.”

Amalek dwells out in the world, in full view. Within us, he hides in our political outrage, as well as in the interpersonal harm that we inflict on each other.

In Exodus 17:8-18, Amalek attacks the Israelites as they come out of Egypt. After a back-and-forth battle, the Israelites fight off Amalekites. After the battle, God says to Moses that God will surely erase the memory of Amalek, and God is engaged in an eternal war with Amalek.

These and other Biblical incidents create the image of an intractable enemy, always present when Israel is weak. In the aggadah (rabbinic narratives rooted in the Bible), the image of Amalek is filled out, for example, as mutilating the bodies of Israelites captured through vile cunning.

Amalek is finally cornered in 1 Samuel. In this narrative, God commands King Saul to annihilate the Amalekites, those committed to the annihilation of Israel. Saul does so, but lets Agag, their king, live. Samuel the Seer tells Saul that God has ripped the kingship away from him for disobeying God. Samuel has Agag brought before him and slays him — but, according to the aggadah, it’s too late. In the interim, Agag has sired a child, who begets a generation. In Esther 3:1, we learn that the Amalekites have migrated to Persia (today’s Iran). Haman is the son of Hamdata, the Agagite. Haman is an Amalekite.

Haman is foiled in the time of Esther, but as a symbol, lives on. In the Zohar, Kabalah’s foundational book, Amalek descends from the primordial snake. He is the stuff of spiritual impurity and poison.

As a spiritual psychological archetype, Amalek roams the world. He appears in Stalin, Hitler’s National Socialism, Mao’s and North Korea’s Communism, in the extremist theology of Islamic terror and in ethnic “cleansings” and depredations all over the world.

There is an Amalek in the mass shooters, in racial hatred, in the sundry evils that plague our nation and world. Amalek is known as being impervious to reason — his thinking flows directly from his hatred. He does not hate for what people do, but for what they are. And not even really that. Amalek is addicted to hatred. Whom he hates is secondary.

To remember Amalek is to know that there truly is evil in the world, not just the absence of good. Amalek destroys the good.

For many people, the study of Amalek stops here. We ask ourselves who is Amalek today, and many people have ready answers. Bush is Hitler, or Obama is Hitler or Trump is Hitler. The left are Nazis. Everybody we hate is Hitler or Nazi. That is your inner Amalek talking inside your political passions. Amalek loves to hate and dehumanize those whom we hate.

Once we remember that Amalek dwells within our political passions, we take one more look at where else Amalek lives. This last area of spiritual psychology is core to my own teaching.

First, Amalek dwells in families. I have heard spouses speak to each other with finely articulated hatred. I ask the offender: What’s the source of this license to insult? Their inner Amalek chirps up: “I’m just saying what I feel. I am supposed to be truthful about my feelings.”

I sometimes counsel, “There is a higher truth here. The truth of clarity, not of insult. The truth of wisdom, not invective. The truth of making things better, not destroying that which is gasping to survive.”

Amalek hides mostly in our anger. Amalek loves it when you find something to get angry about. Many of us carry within us resentments, wounds, senses of unfulfilled entitlement that infect our thinking and color our emotions. We can’t imagine letting go of some perceived (or real) injustice, because some part of our lives has learned to thrive, to take meaning in that sense of having been wronged.

For us, as for Amalek, resentment and anger can be the organizing principles of our lives. True, Judaism teaches us, rightly, to fight evil. But most of what we are angry about is not evil. Most of us are angry about the messiness of life lived with other people with whom we disagree. Perhaps far more imperfect than we are, but imperfect just like we are. Amalek hides in our outrage, in our rationalizations, which allow us to see mere momentary opponents as embodiments of evil.

Finally, the inner Amalek hides in not only the parts of the self that attack others, but those that attack our own well-being.

Unresolved grief, despair, irrational guilt and obligation, inner shame, irrational fear and anxiety, envy and destructive desire are fueled by poisonous permissions, excuses and rationalizations of Amalek.

Sometimes we who care for the souls of others feel like emergency room staff. People wheel themselves in, emotionally and spiritually broken, hemorrhaging the belief that things can get better.

Let me share one ER moment, one of thousands.

I once counseled a woman who was trying hard to to get to her writing projects. Her marriage was tough and she felt spiritually spent and dissipated. She had gone to therapy and discovered the painful legacy left by her parents. Armed as she was with insight, she still was wallowing in the mire.

I asked, “What is the she saying?”

“She, who?” the woman asked.

“She, that unhappy voice within,” I responded. “She has something to say and she is saying it, but her voice is close to inaudible.”

I taught this young woman a bit about different ego states, subpersonalities and discordant voices. She caught on.

“She says that I am a loser, that my talent was spent a long ago, that like my father I won’t amount to much, that I dream big but accomplish little.”

“How does she feel about you?” I asked.

“She hates me. She wants me to be the worse wife and mother possible. She wants me depressed and unavailable.”  She heard herself talking and then asked, disconcerted, “Who is she?”

“She is the Amalek within,” I said.

Even those of us who have gotten somewhere in life know that we harbor within us voices and forces that if expressed or lived out could shatter it all. So many people wake up in the gutter with a final cry that they want to live that they have formed communities (such as 12-step programs) of those cut down by Amalek. Some of us, Amalek stabs in the back.  Others die by a thousand slashes.

However old I am, I am not taking that pattern of thought, speech or behavior out of Egypt with me. There is a strict baggage limit on the freedom train.

In sum: Amalek dwells out in the world, in full view. Within us, he hides in our political outrage and the interpersonal harm we inflict on each other. Deeper within, Amalek gnaws away at our own well-being.

Here is a way to fight Amalek. First, in the weeks before Passover, create a detailed vision of the person you want to be in every area of your life, including how you spend your time and manage your private thoughts, feelings and emotions. The vision should be realistic and achievable, not just high-sounding phrases.

Next, try to detect the voices of Amalek as he aims to block your path or distract you from your goal. Amalek always has a speech, some excuse or rationalization in the costume of reason. This is where virtue comes in. Your path includes rules of speech and behavior.

It is a fight. Some days the battle goes my way, and other days Amalek gets the upper hand. I keep up the fight. This fight reaches its most bitter moment right around Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath before Purim.

Take a break for Purim — the feast of gladness and joy. Realize that you don’t have to drink to get intoxicated because Amalek is toxic enough.

Start to refine the battle to one close-quarters fight that I believe I have the vision, the will and skill to win. Stop using that word. Stop that passive aggressive behavior. Be straight and aim for the good.

As Nisan, the month of the Exodus, comes closer, realize that the time is now. However old I am, I am not taking that pattern of thought, speech or behavior out of Egypt with me. There is a strict baggage limit on the freedom train.

By the middle of Nisan, I have flushed out at least one face of Amalek and I realize now that he is not I — that he is Pharaoh bent on enslaving me. Things are clearer now. What I thought was part of me was actually a chain. I get out of Egypt, ready for the word of God to fill me.


Rabbi Mordecai Finley is the spiritual leader of Ohr HaTorah and professor of Jewish Thought at the Academy of Jewish Religion, California.