Judaism: An Educator: Purim Festivities in Retrospect
Rabbi Yonah GoodmanThe writer is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Religious Education, Orot Teachers College, Elkana, Israel and former secretary-general of Bnai Akiva, Israel.
Sometimes, it seems that Purim is less about dressing up in costumes and more about removing disguises. In the name of “v’nahafoch hu” (“it was reversed” – Esther 9:1), we turn a blind eye to certain behaviors and attitudes (not necessarily positive ones) and expose our innermost feelings, which we try to keep hidden during the rest of the year.
Purim specifically and Adar as a whole present a unique educational challenge. On one hand, we do not wish to deny our students the relative freedom which they customarily enjoy during this month. Yet, at the same time, we must find ways to encourage them to channel their exuberance in a positive and constructive direction.
The following letter, which is “based on actual events,” can help us and our students better understand this challenge:
When you served as our advisor at the Gesher (a Jerusalem-based organization that runs meetings between religious and secular youth, ed.) seminar, you told us to keep in touch. (As you put it, “Even a year from now, I’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have.”) So, here we are, only three months later, and I’m writing to you.
As you know, our group (consisting of girls from a secular public high school) hit it off with the religious group, and I personally became quite friendly with Moriyah. (She’s a great girl, even if she is religious…) In fact, she repeatedly invited me to come visit and get a firsthand view of Orthodox Jewish life.
Purim seemed like a perfect opportunity to take Moriyah up on her kind offer. As it is, I can’t stand the way “Purim” is celebrated in our neighborhood. In my opinion, the secular version of Purim is basically a rowdy, boisterous carnival with deafening music, cigarette smoke, and lots of alcohol. (I hated it even before I met the religious girls and started to become interested in learning more about Judaism.) In other words, our Purim parties are revolting. (And to make matters worse, my friends claim that they are “having fun!”)
I arrived at Moriyah’s house on Erev Purim. I couldn’t wait to experience that special religious atmosphere, which you had spoken of so highly at Gesher.
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that it was all just a bunch of empty words!!
Your “religious world” proved to be a pale imitation of the world I had considered leaving!
Other than the fact that you read the text of Megilat Esther instead Issue 7, אדר תשע"ג of staging a satirical play, there was little to distinguish it from Purim in my neighborhood. It was all familiar: the carnival atmosphere, the smoking, the alcohol, the loud music, the lame jokes, hanging out all night, and the impulsive behavior. I could go on, but as a religious guy, you certainly know what I’m talking about. (By the way, the kids in your crowd also claimed that they were “just having fun!”)
I still have my notes from the seminar, where you discussed “Judaism’s profound depths,” “a rich ideological world,” and – ironically – “a life filled with meaning!” But I wonder: What kind of “meaning” were you talking about? The kind I saw at your Purim party? Sorry, but our community boasts the “original.” I don’t need your imitation. Your Purim is all about copying secular Israelis, but if I had wanted a secular lifestyle, I could have stayed home.
The bottom line is that your Purim held nothing for me. No “depth,” no “ideology,” and no “incredible religious world.” I’m not sure how to phrase this as a question, because this is more of a cry of pain!
At the seminar, you seemed like an honest person, and that’s why I’m confused by the incongruity between your lofty words and the sad reality on the ground. I’m not even sure that there is an explanation.
I remember that you said that on Purim, we let our real selves come out. Nu? It seems to me that instead of wearing costumes on Purim, you wore them at the Gesher seminar.
Please forgive me if I have offended you. I look forward to hearing from you.
Happy (??) Purim,
Educational Thoughts for the Reader
1. The above letter focuses on an inappropriate cultural approach to Purim. Are there any other aspects of our schools’ Purim celebrations (e.g. interpersonal behavior, modesty, the cost of the Purim play, etc.) that you as a teacher (or parent, ed.) would like to change?
2. You decide to speak to your students (children, ed.) about Purim’s true meaning. After hearing you out, they say, “We understand. But how are we supposed to celebrate? Do you expect us to spend the entire day dancing?” What can you suggest to them?
3. The letter does not apply in every school. Many institutions are characterized by a true and constructive simchah (joy), and their students volunteer and are involved in other meaningful extracurricular projects. What enables these schools to avoid the pitfalls described in the letter and to be mekadesh Shem Shamayim (sanctify the Name of Heaven) instead? As an educator/parent, what can I do to encourage my students/children to choose – of their own volition – a positive approach to Purim?