2022 Dr.Paul Brody, students and Megillah
2022 Dr.Paul Brody, students and MegillahBrody Bunch Photography

What would have been the 50th Jubilee year of Dr. Paul Brody of Great Neck chanting Megillat Esther, and 20 years of Dr. Brody instructing students of the North Shore Hebrew Academy (NSHA) Middle School in Great Neck, in a program he instituted in 2002 - when he observed that almost no young people knew how to read the Megillah - took a strange “twist” when he unfortunately took a slip on an icy patch, landing him in extended rehabilitation after complex surgery.

Dr. Brody has instructed approximately 400 seventh and eighth-graders, both Ashkenazic and Sephardic, who have chanted Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther) in a unique student-led service (See photo) for their schoolmates, faculty and families, on Purim Day, even if Purim landed on a Sunday! COVID-19 stalled the 20th Anniversary of this unique Yeshiva program last year.

Fortunately, Dr. Brody‘s “break,” occurred after the “Yeshiva Break” week, on February 1st, and he was able to conduct “probers” for the eligible students - which this year including a high of 36 participants - make the recordings of the individual parts for the Ashkenazic students, and arrange for Rabbi Adam Acobas, Middle School Principal to make the Sephardic recordings. He began listening to, guiding and “fine-tuning” each student in their Megillah portion. Rabbi Acobas and Chazzan Yitzy Spinner of the Great Neck Synagogue are completing the task.

The North Shore Hebrew Academy was established in 1954 - by Rabbi Dr. Ephraim R. Wolf zt'l, who was also the Rabbi of the Great Neck Synagogue, and acknowledged to be the force behind establishing Orthodox Judaism on the Great Neck Peninsula - with a current enrollment of over 1000 students from Kindergarten through High School.

Photo credit: NSHA Archives

The Middle School students at the NSHA have been instructed by Dr. Paul Brody, a resident of Great Neck (4th from left, back row, holding Megillah, surrounded by his 2020 students), in the fine art of cantillation and the meticulous notes and melody of chanting the Megillah. Brody’s maternal grandfather, Rabbi Jacob Brown, zt”l, convinced him to read the “gantze [entire] Megillah,” after Brody learned the initial Megillah trope at the Cantorial Training Institute (CTI), - now the Belz School of Jewish Music - of Yeshiva University, from Rabbi Solomon Berl z”l.

Dr. Brody and his wife Drora donated the “Megillah Reader” portion of a stained-glass window at the Great Neck Synagogue, where he has chanted the Megillah for the past 25 years, to show “Hakarat HaTov” (Recognition of a good deed) to his “Zayde.” (See photo). Dr. Brody wears his grandfather’s century-old tallit (Prayer Shawl) when he chants the Megillah, and so do his Ashkenazic students. (Sephardic students wear their own Prayer Shawls even before they are married.).

The Megillah Scroll that the students read from has special significance, as it was presented to Dr. Brody and his wife by a renowned holy Rabbi of Migdal Ha’Emek, in the Northern Galil in Israel, Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Grossman, recipient of the prestigious “Israel Prize,” whose organization Migdal Ohr (“Tower of Light”) nurtures many thousands of disadvantaged children. Dr. Brody is one of four Members of Migdal Ohr’s Founders’ Board.

Photo credit: Brody Bunch Photography .Dr. Paul Brody, who has chanted the Megillah on Purim at the Great Neck Synagogue (GNS) for 25 years, with his daughter, recent Olah, Dana Brody Esq., in front of the stained-glass window at GNS that he and his wife Drora donated in memory of his maternal grandfather, Rabbi Jacob Brown zt"l, who convinced him that learning the “Gantze Megillah” was not insurmountable. Note the Prophetess Queen Esther and Megillah Reader are pictured with a double mask!

The program was introduced by Brody, a dermatologist by profession, in 2002. He often "davened" with the NSHA Middle School students, where his daughters attended and realized that none of the young men had any knowledge of how to chant Megillat Esther. Dr. Brody broached the idea that he would volunteer to instruct the students how to chant the Megillah with Rabbi Dr. Michael Reichel, then principal of the Middle School, and Executive Director Arnie Flatow, who heartily acquiesced, with the approbation of now Dean Emeritus, Rabbi Yeshayahu Greenfeld. It has since become integral in NSHA’s curriculum - and unique among Yeshivot - even gracefully conducted when Purim Day falls out on a Sunday. Students are enabled to read the Megillah at various Synagogues, hospitals, nursing homes and private homes, for those unable to attend public readings - especially relevant for this year’s pandemic.

Rabbi Greenfeld reminisced , “It was twenty years ago when Dr. Paul Brody, a most devoted NSHA parent and a devout community member, approached Rabbi Reichel and myself, with an inspiring Purim Megillah Reading project, volunteering to teach our middle school students to read the Megillah at a special minyan, turning this one of the five Purim mitzvot into a very exciting spiritual and learning experience. Due to Dr. Brody’s initiative, students - along with their siblings, parents and grandparents, and even faculty members - have been reporting to the Academy’s Cherry Lane Synagogue for the past two decades to enjoy a meaningful and most inspiring Purim Day.”

Rabbi Reichel, commenting from Yerushalayim, where he and his family emigrated several years ago, said “Dr. Brody’s concept of instructing Middle School students to chant the Megillah, has allowed NSHA students and their extended families to enjoy a TOTAL Purim experience - not only on Purim night.”

Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Kobrin (4th from right, back row, INSHA Head of School, and Rabbi Adam Acobas (next to him), the Middle School principal - and Rabbis Greenfeld and Reichel, during their tenure - have facilitated the students’ hectic schedules to enable adequate review time with Brody. Rabbi Acobas has made the initial recording for the Sephardic students, who have subsequently reviewed their parts with Dr. Brody, until last year, when he himself did the review.

Photo credit: NSHA Archives.2020 Megillah Readers combined to lain the “Gantze Megillah,” under the tutelage of Dr. Paul Brody.

Rabbi Dr. Kobrin exclaimed "This wonderful tradition, established at the North Shore Hebrew Academy twenty years ago under Dr. Brody's expert tutelage, has enabled generations of our students to learn a life skill: they will be able to perform the mitzvah of reading the Megillah for years to come.” "Dr. Brody is a teacher committed to his craft and holds his students to a consistently high standard. That's a very important lesson, and one our kids don't quickly forget," said Rabbi Acobas.

Brody has read the Megillah for almost 50 years. He first chanted it in 1973 at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills (YIKGH), in Queens, under the tutelage of Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld zt"l, reading it there and at Kehillas Aderes Eliyahu (Shul of Rabbi Teitz’s zt"l) through 1993, when he and his family moved to Great Neck. He has chanted Megillat Esther at the Great Neck Synagogue ever since.

Dr. Irvin Spira, who has a lifetime interest in musical cantillation and Nusach, stated “I extremely enjoy Dr. Brody‘s creative Megillah laining because he modulates his voice for the various personages in the Megillah, employs special tunes at dramatic moments, and utilizes several props to keep his listeners’ interest. I try to never miss his unique rendition.”

In 2019 and 2020, Dr. Brody additionally recruited and coordinated a group of his alumni students - reviewing their respective portions with them - to lain at the Great Neck Synagogue (GNS) on Purim night. It was "near-miraculous" that the young men were able to conduct the chanting of the "Gantze Megillah," last year, just a few days before GNS entered COVID-19 lockdown mode. Several of Dr. Brody's students have actually lained the whole Megillah by themselves, or shared the reading with one or two other alumni, at various shuls, nursing homes or private individuals' homes. Last year, one of Dr. Brody’s students, Russel Mendelson, Esq., M.B.A. (NSHA ’07), (see photo) lained in a simultaneous service at GNS. His brother Eli (NSHA ’09) read the “Gantze Megillah” there 2 years ago. “When I hear about that, I kvell and 'shep Nachat,' exclaimed Brody.”

Two extraordinary experiences stand out in Dr. Brody's mind. On Purim day 2011, several of his former students read for him and his family at St. Francis Hospital in Port Washington, LI. "This was the first and only time in the hospital's long history that it granted a large meeting room for a Megillah reading. All of the room's religious articles at the Catholic Hospital were covered over," according to Cardiology Vice Chairman, Dr. Meyer Abittan, Dr. Brody's cardiologist and close friend, who arranged the room for this special reading the day before Brody underwent successful by-pass surgery.

It was very emotional for Dr. Brody and his family to have several of his former students chant the Megillah for him. Brody was strong enough to fill in for some of the chapters, and even lained the "Gantze Megillah" the night before for several inpatients! (See photo)

Photo credit: Brody Bunch Productions. "V'NaHaFoch Hu" ("Topsy-Turvy"): Dr. Paul Brody, wearing his "Purim costume" (a St. Francis Hospital gown & IV) backed up by his cardiologist, Dr. Meyer Abittan. Dr. Brody is “hanging” 4 more modern-day Hamans. Several of Brody's former students came to read the Megillah for him, the day before he underwent successful by-pass surgery.

The most exciting, but dangerous, Megillah reading experience of all for Dr. Brody occurred during a three-person mission in 1985 to smuggle in Judaica objects and meet with many Refuseniks. Brody chanted the Megillah illegally in the majestic Great Synagogue of Leningrad, which was prohibited by the Communist Soviet government. He was told that several of the "Gabbaim" (sextons) were actually members of the KGB. " Better READ than dead!!" Brody figured.

Photo credit: Unnamed Comrade. Caption: Dr. Paul Brody preparing to “illegally” read the Megillah in 1985 at the majestic Great Synagogue in Leningrad. The “Gabbaim” were rumored to be KGB agents.

Dr. Paul Brody, a Dermatologist, is an activist from Great Neck, Long Island, involved in many causes in Israel and the U.S.,and has had several articles published on Arutz Sheva.