Why I Love Purim

by Rebecca Hirschwerk – Director of Congregational Education

When I was still working part-time at RSNS and part-time at the Nassau County Museum of Art, something magical happened. First I’ll say that some of my favorite moments over my years at NCMA were tours with my Synagogue School students who were visiting on public school field trips. After the shock wore off and they accepted the fact that I didn’t live at RSNS, it was so much fun exploring art with them in the same way we were doing together at RSNS. I loved it when my worlds collided and brought my communities together. But perhaps the funniest collision happened with a first-grade class from Port Washington during one of our nature tours in the woods. A chaperone on the trip said to me, “You look so familiar. Were you Esther in the Purim Shpiel?” This was both kind of embarrassing and, if I’m being perfectly honest, a dream come true. Someone noticed me! It was hilarious. And it wasn’t until last year, when Adrienne Rosen, Director of Gan Shalom,  and I both began our work at RSNS, did I realize that she was the chaperone in question. If that’s not beshert, I don’t know what is.

And so as Oppenheminer swept the Oscars last week, there was another equally remarkable production taking shape. The cast was an incredible mix of a few veteran performers and a giggling slew of newcomers to the stage. The direction was masterfully minimal-needing just a bimah and a stuffed animal pigeon. The lyrics could top any Menken-Schwartz masterpiece and the vibe of the players and the audience couldn’t be beat. And this is what I really love about Purim. From the joy of misholach manot to the wild Megillah Reading and Shpiel to the Carnival, Purim is a model for celebrating Jewish joy in communal experiences that bring together congregants from every possible age cohort.  Purim combines social action, experiential learning, and good old-fashioned fun. The misholach manot bags are put together with love over many weeks and include everyone: our students who decorate the bags, our community hamantaschen bakers, and our families who assemble and deliver them to our members. Our Megillah reading has readers from every section of our congregation and even included a dancing 4th-grade dinosaur last year! And the Purim Shpiel, thanks to Cantor Eric, has them laughing in the aisles. And the Carnival…well ok, that one is pretty much for the kids. Taken all together, Purim is a holiday designed around broad communal participation and it guides me as I look to the future of our community built on this same model of welcoming and engaging experiences.

I am excited to explore how our Synagogue School can combine family participation, social action, and Jewish celebration. I am equally honored to work with our clergy and our lay leaders in continuing to find ways to build multi-generational experiences around Torah, holidays, culture, and traditions. The more I think about Purim, the more I think about the moment when Mordechai implores Esther to reveal herself to the King in order to expose Haman’s plot to kill the Jews with, “Perhaps this is exactly what you were meant to do.” I try to take that to heart, which is sometimes a little hard when Mordechai is dressed like Mickey Mouse, or an off-the-rails Swiftie fan. But I truly do feel fully present in this moment with all of you and it remains such a blessing to be on the journey of community building together.

Rebecca Hirschwerk