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What aspects of Purim do you find most meaningful and fulfilling?

Posted by: Deborah Fishman

March 23, 2016

Purim starts tonight at sunset. In preparation, we polled the AVI CHAI staff as to their thoughts on:  What aspects of Purim do you find most meaningful and fulfilling? Here are the results:
Rachel Abrahams:
The familial nature of the holiday helps transmit your family’s customs and values around celebrations. What are the important pieces of the holiday to you, as a parent and as a family?  It’s an opportunity to show your children how you feel about matanot l’evyonim, what it means to celebrate and get dressed up. As my children become teenagers, I’m thinking about how it changes from just a fun time to get dressed up and shake a grogger into exploring what the real significance of the holiday is. It’s becoming about how you transmit that and not just the joyous nature of the day.
Galli Aizenman:
It’s meaningful to have a holiday where we come together as a family and a community to celebrate a great moment in Jewish history, and we do so with joy and fun. It’s also a great holiday for kids. I find it meaningful to hear the story each year with a renewed understanding of how special we are as the Jewish people and our place in Jewish history. It’s about feeling the joys and also acknowledging the suffering that has occurred to the Jews. There’s something communal and celebratory about it that is fun to be a part of. Other holidays – like the High Holidays – are about being introspective on your own. This is celebrating a joyful event for the community.
Michael Berger:
The Purim story is about all Jews uniting in a time of crisis, sticking together and helping each other out – kind of like “we all rise or fall together.”  In keeping with that theme, our family does three things: first, we add up everything we spend on mishloah manot and the seudah (meal) and we give at least that amount to matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor).   In some years, such as during the recession, we made the ratio 2:1 in favor of matanot le-evyonim.  Second, wherever we go on Purim, we keep with us a stash of baggie-size mishloach manot (with just a cookie, a few raisins, and a “Happy Purim” note) to give to everyone we meet, as if to say – “even if we don’t spent a lot of time together during the year, I value your presence in our community.”   Lastly, we are fortunate to live in a community with many of our children’s teachers, and we want our children to use the holiday to express their appreciation personally, so we have them make up and deliver mishloah manot in person to each of their teachers that year.  We think this helps builds community, and teaches our children this value.
Deborah Fishman:
I find it striking how our actions on Purim allow us to live out the history even in our modern-day environment in a very experiential way. We start with the Fast of Esther, a kind of recreation of how all Jews fasted before Esther risked her life by appearing before the king. Then, we have a megillah reading, followed by feasting just as Mordechai instructed in the megillah. I enjoy cooking Persian food for Purim, to make a feast that is closest in nature to what Jews themselves would have prepared in Shushan. All the while, everyone is dressed in costume, which exemplifies our identification with the cast of characters in the story – from all the Esthers and Mordechais in the crowd – as well as deeper aspects of the story, such as its topsy-turvy plot as well as the nes nistar (hidden miracle).
Deena Fuchs:
I love the megillah. I remember learning it in depth in high school. Every year when I hear it read, all of the nuance and commentary comes back to me. I am compelled by Purim’s theme of the nes nistar – the hidden miracle. We are not always aware of why things happen the way they do, but upon reflection, we find that everything happens for a reason. In our fast-paced, non-stop, serious world, it’s nice to just be frivolous – to take a step back and laugh at ourselves. Finally, I love the sense of community that Purim builds, of preparing and delivering mishloach manot (gift baskets), of everyone being so happy to see each other in costume. While community building is not unique to Purim, Purim makes it intentional – and fun!
Susan Kardos:
In addition to celebrating with family and friends, Purim is a holiday I like to share with my non-Jewish friends. When I am out in the world, I find that there is a perception among non-Jews that Judaism is only about seriousness and deprivation: about all the things we don’t or can’t do: eat on Yom Kippur or other fast days, drive on Shabbat, or eat bread on Passover or drive.  In contrast, Purim is raucous and joyful.  It’s an inspiring and happy holiday, and I love introducing my non-Jewish friends to my joyful Judaism.
Nechama Leibowitz:
Purim is a fun holiday and a great time to make memories with my children. However, what has become truly meaningful to me about the coming of Purim is the day before, Taanit Esther, with the creation of Agunah Day to spread awareness of the plight of Agunot, chained women who are being denied a get (Jewish divorce) by their husbands.
Leah Meir:
Purim in Israel is really a fantastic thing. There’s a commonality you don’t see in some other Jewish holidays. Everybody is willing to put aside their real personas for a day. Kids on the street could be anyone’s kids, from the most traditional to the families who don’t necessarily identify as religious at all. There’s a common festive atmosphere at least for those 24 hours.
Yossi Prager:
I love the megillah itself, and I love reading it for the community. The tune is unique, used only for Megillat Esther. But it also includes traces of the tune we use for Lamentations, Megillat Eicha, which increases the sense of foreboding and fragility in the first half of the megillah. The megillah is filled with entertaining plot twist, satire and irony, while teaching a profound lesson about how individuals can be God’s agents in Jewish history.  The absence of God’s name from the megillah gives it a hide-and-go-seek quality: we are meant to see G-d’s actions in history, even when they are not self-evident. The most fun part of Purim, dressing up, complements this theme of hide-and-go-seek, as we, too, obscure who we really are.  And I love the way in which the mitzvot of the day help to build community: a public reading of the megillah, bringing food to friends and neighbors, and sharing our good fortune with those in need.  The story of two individuals, Esther and Mordechai, becomes a double lesson – about how much each of us can accomplish individually and the strength of community.
Michael Trapunsky:
I enjoy spending time home with family to celebrate Purim, especially the seudah. I also find matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor) very meaningful – helping others less fortunate who might need help to have their own seudah. Finally, I think of Purim as a rededication to our faith, since at the time of Purim, Jews accepted the Torah again.

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