The Tzohar organization will hold Megillah readings and Purim celebrations in 60 locations around Israel this year in its efforts to bridge the gap between religious and secular Jews. More than 1,000 religious Zionist rabbis and educators volunteer their services with the organization.
The holiday of Purim, which begins in most of the country Saturday night, commemorates the last-minute escape of the Jewish People from impending genocide in the 4th century BCE due to a decree signed by the Persian King Ahasuerus, prompted by his anti-Semitic prime minister, Haman.
The story is told in the Biblical Book of Esther, which is read twice each year on the holiday, in the evening and the following morning. Jews celebrate the holiday -- as directed in the Bible -- by holding festive meals, drinking wine (adults), sending packages of food to each other and giving charity to those in need. Children and often even adults take the opportunity to dress up in costume. There is also a tradition to eat three-cornered pastries resembling the hat worn by Haman, who was eventually killed, and his evil decree annulled.
“Almost every Israeli associates Purim with dressing up and letting loose and they all love the holiday,” observed Nachman Rosenberg, Tzohar's Executive Vice President. “Yet they are rarely able to associate that passion with the values behind the day... we are hoping to help them connect with Purim as a day that is not just fun but a central part of Jewish values and tradition.”
Tzohar, he added, looks for opportunities to use Jewish identity as a source of national unity, rather than separation, “a value that is deeply existential in our eyes,” he explained. “What better occasion than Purim, a fun holiday, that is celebrated in almost every Jewish home in Israel?”
Participants will receive a special copy of Megillat Esther – the Book of Esther – which includes the traditional text, an explanation of the holiday and the source of its customs, including the giving of charity and food packages.
“Our goal is to help secular Israelis feel less alienated when it comes to religious practice and show them that there are many ways to embrace religion and become spiritually involved with one's Judaism,” explained Rabbi David Stav, Chairman of Tzohar. “Many [secular] Israelis have a very strong Jewish identity and love Jewish tradition.”
The program is sponsored in memory of Dr. Leon Kronitz, a founding member of the Canadian Zionist Federation and Executive Vice President of the World Zionist Organization (WZO).