A Gift For Purim: Believe In Good!

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An image from Unsung Hero: TVC Thai Life

Sunday is Purim, the most joyful day on the Jewish calendar. Sadly, because of the threats that the Jewish community has faced over the past several weeks, many of us are not feeling so joyful.  However, given that Purim celebrates our ability to rise above those who threaten our very existence, the holiday has much to teach us.

We read the Book of Esther on Purim. It tells the story of our ancestor’s victory over Haman who sought to destroy the Jewish people. This victory reminds us that for centuries we’ve had to find the strength and courage to stand up to hate. Purim celebrations, including shpiels (plays that recount the story of Purim), costumes, festive meals, and, of course, hamantaschen (the triangular cookies stuffed with filling that are symbolic of Haman’s hat), are important reminders that we have and will continue to overcome those who seek to do us harm. And the strength of our Purim heroes, Queen Esther, Mordechai and the Jews of Shushan, are a reminder that when we are united as a people, haters come crashing down.

It’s customary for Jews to send each other Mishloach Manot – gifts of food and drink – on Purim. By sending these gifts, not only do we help spread the joy of Purim, we also do our part to unite our community. In the Book of Esther, Haman asserted that the Jewish people were “a scattered and divided nation.” Sadly, there have been times in history when it seemed like Haman’s assertion was accurate. Even today, as we face a rise in anti-Semitism and a divisive political climate, we struggle to be a united Jewish community. Mishloach Manot are a way for us to heal the divide and, therefore, a way to ensure that Haman’s terrible assertion about us never really comes true. We might disagree vehemently, we might be fearful, but on Purim, our tradition asks us to come together and celebrate the downfall of Haman.

While Mishloach Manot are usually gifts of food and drink, they can also be words of Torah – a powerful lesson that brings us closer to each other. Today, I’m including my Mishloach Manot in this message.  It’s a lesson that’s not comprised of traditional biblical verses. Rather, it’s an extremely touching life insurance commercial from Thailand. Yes, you read that correctly! Please click on the image below to watch “Unsung Hero: TVC Thai Life”:

This is truly a beautiful commercial. The lesson it contains reminds me that when we do our best to rise above the negativity out there and go out of our way to lift each other up, we can discover pure goodness. When we discover this goodness, we experience pure happiness. And this pure happiness is the essence of Purim.

Please pass this video on as we get ready to celebrate our joyous holiday. Make it your own Mishloach Manot, a simple gift that reminds us of the importance of coming together and believing in good.

Cheryl, Abigail, Jonah and I wish you all a very happy Purim.

Celebrating Behind Walls: Shushan Purim

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Yesterday, the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar, was Purim in most locations where Jews live. However, today, the 15th day of Adar, in the walled city of Jerusalem, the Jewish community celebrates Purim. Today is known as Shushan Purim. Based upon the Megillah, the Jews in Shushan, the walled city where the Purim story took place, had to fight off those who were trying to destroy them on both the 13th and 14th days of Adar and were only able to rest on the 15th day of the month. This 15th day became a day of “feasting and merrymaking” – Shushan Purim. The Jews who lived outside of the walled city of Shushan were able to end their battle with the enemy on the 13th day of Adar and, thus, began feasting and merrymaking on the 14th day of the month. To this day, we are taught that Jews who live in cities that were walled in ancient times (Jerusalem is technically the only city required to observe Shushan Purim) should observe Purim one day later than those who live in unwalled cities.

This year, given that Spring Break fell during the week of Purim, we decided to embrace the holiday of Shushan Purim and do our “merrymaking” today at Kabbalat Shabbat. We hope that you are able to join us at 7:30PM!

It is not an easy time to celebrate Purim. The attacks in Belgium are heartbreaking and frightening. The Jews of Belgium canceled their Purim celebrations. In its place, the country mourned those who were killed and prayed for those who were injured.

While Shushan Purim makes Jerusalem special in that her residents get their own special day of joy and laughter, the fact that those who live in walled cities must delay their “merrymaking” teaches us a very powerful lesson. The Jews who did not live behind walls, the Jews who intermingled with those who were different from them – they did not have to fight for their lives as long as those who lived behind walls and, thus, separated themselves from the rest of the world. In light of the attacks in Belgium earlier this week, barricading ourselves behind walls and other protective borders seems extremely appealing. However, Shushan Purim is there to remind us that when you live behind a wall, it is easy to be surrounded by the enemy. Living behind a wall might make us feel more secure, but, Shushan Purim suggests that it makes us more vulnerable to those who can cut us off from the rest of the world. We can’t be naïve when it comes to security – however, Shushan Purim is begging us to look at how we interact with the world around us, reminding us that walls can, at times, work against us.

After this long, terrible week, we look forward to celebrating with you later today.

Be Happy It’s Adar!

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Today is an unusual Jewish day and the beginning of a very special Jewish month – the month known as Adar 1.  Seven times in a 19-year cycle, the Jewish calendar contains 13 months instead of the regular 12. This Jewish leap year is designed to ensure that the lunar-based Jewish year remains aligned with the solar seasons (12 lunar months make up 354 days — about 11 days short of the 365.25 day solar cycle). If the month of Adar I was not added, we would wind up celebrating Passover – Judaism’s Spring holiday – in the winter.

What I love about the Jewish leap year is that the month we double is the month of Adar.  Adar II falls right after Adar I during the leap year (Adar II begins on March 3 this year).  During a regular year, there is only one Adar. The rabbis of the Talmud teach that when Adar begins, simcha (joy) increases. The highlight of the month is Purim, the day on which we celebrate our ancestors’ ability to stop Haman from annihilating them. But the rabbis explain that the joy associated with Adar is not limited to Purim alone. We are taught that the entire month is filled with simcha because Adar is the month during which the Jewish people actively changed their destiny, transforming what seemed like their inevitable destruction at the hands of Haman into a celebration of life and Jewish power. Given the fortunate events of Adar, the rabbis teach us that this month is an auspicious time for our people. We are encouraged to schedule challenging events like court cases and medical procedures during Adar so that the “luck” associated with the month rubs off and benefits us.

This year – we get two joyful, auspicious months!  Purim falls during Adar II (March 16th – SAVE THE DATE!!!).  So Adar I gives us lots of time to get get into a Purim state of mind.

Unfortunately, the joy of Adar does not rub off that easily. You have to know about the joy of Adar in order to appreciate it. You need to be around the joy in order to feel it. You have to be drawn into it in order to truly live it. Once you do appreciate it, feel it, live it, the joy is contagious. I can’t guarantee that it will be as “auspicious” as the rabbis say it is, but I can guarantee that the joy of Adar will make you happy. And in this day and age, why turn down something that makes you smile?

Unfortunately, most Jews do turn the joy of Adar down. This is because while being written in the “Book of Life” during the High Holidays is something most Jews pay close attention to, the joy of Adar is not on most Jews’ radar screens.  “High Holiday Jews” – those for whom Jewish life is all about Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur – focus on the intense, often gut-wrenching aspects of Judaism.  Granted, these are important aspects of our tradition to which we need to pay attention – but, I am committed to turning “High Holiday Jews” into “Adar Jews”, Jews who focus on intense joy, side-splitting laughter, great food and drink, and celebrating Jewish pride with friends and family. I don’t want folks to ignore the serious side of our tradition, but I know that by focusing solely upon the intense themes of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we run the risk of denying ourselves so many of the uplifting, celebratory, carefree, lighthearted, and pleasurable aspects of our tradition.

This year, we get two Adars – two months to pay attention to the joy that is out there.  And it is out there – if you look for it.  Can you hear the laughter?  If not, listen harder.  Seek it out.  You deserve two months of pure, unadulterated happiness. Go find it!

Purim Explanation

Welcome to Ramat Shalom’s 36th Annual

Purim Extravanganza

Warning: You are about to experience the absurdity of Purim.

If you afraid of laughter, satire and fun, DO NOT ENTER.

 Disclaimer (aka: Rabbi’s Lame Attempt to Educate You Before We Begin)

Tonight, with the help of our congregant, Bruce Braffman, we literally read the Ganze Megillah (Yiddish for “the whole Megillah” or Book of Esther – good news: we actually read the important parts, not the whole thing) which details the heroic efforts of Esther and Mordechai.  We celebrate their bravery as we hear how they destroy evil Haman who was determined to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the earth.  As we read the Megillah, every time Haman’s name is spoken, we shake our groggers (Purim noise makers) to drown out not just Haman’s name, but also his very existence.   We also eat hamantaschen (Yiddish for Haman’s pockets), pockets of dough filled with fruit or chocolate.  Hamantaschen are three-cornered cookies, representing the three-cornered hat that evil Haman wore.  Just like we drown out his name, we annihilate his hat by eating as many hamataschen as we can!!!

The events described in the Megillah took place around 425BCE.  2,500 years later, we still gather to celebrate Haman’s demise and the victory of Esther, Mordechai and the Jewish people.  Amazing!!!

All over the world tonight, Jews of all denominations celebrate Purim by  “letting our hair down”, blurring established rules of etiquette and engaging in topsy-turvy antics.   Even in the most traditional Jewish communities, Purim is a time when men dress as women, women dress as men, children dress like adults and adults are encouraged to drink alcohol until they can’t figure out the difference between Mordechai and Haman.  (Although adult beverages are served, we don’t encourage this here!)

Part of the absurdity of the Purim celebration is the Purim Shpiel (Yiddish for “Purim play”) which dates back to 14th century Europe.  A true Purim Shpiel is one that pushes the limits of a community by poking fun at them, particularly its leaders.  Shpiels are filled with sarcasm, absurdity, and humor.  They give Jewish communities all over the globe the opportunity to pause, stop taking themselves so seriously and blow off much needed steam.  Our Shpiel, like most, is PG-13A free children’s program is being offered in the Education Building.  All activities will conclude by 8:00PM.

Costumes are an integral part of the absurdity of Purim.  The Megillah begins with a costume parade where the foolish King Achashverosh picks his new wife Esther.  Today, Purim costumes are used by many to satirize society.  Given this, Rabbi Andrew has chosen to dress up as the epitome of American society, class and culture.  You will have to see it to believe it.

Our Shpiel, known as the “Evening Jews” will begin at 7:00PM.  Five “celebrity” anchors will be presenting three “acts” of timely Purim news this evening. The Megillah reading will take place after each act.

Get a drink and some hamantaschen, sit back and let your hair down.  Don’t take ANYTHING seriously and, please, laugh.  Tonight is a celebration of the victory of the Jewish people.   Have a good time!  Thanks for coming!!!

A Pre-Purim AIPAC Update

Friends,

As many of you know, I just returned from AIPAC’s (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) 2012 Policy Conference in Washington DC. I spent time with more than 13,000 pro-Israel supporters, listening to President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu and other dignitaries talk about a wicked Persian tyrant who is out to destroy the Jews. And, to be honest, I must tell you that I was disappointed, confused and a bit taken aback by what I heard.

Why, I kept asking myself, did I fly all the way up to the nation’s capital to hear these national and global leaders push Purim!? I know the story. Persian maniac tries to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth. There were 400 rabbis at AIPAC – you think we needed to hear this!? Come on!!!

Furthermore, the way Obama and Netanyahu spoke, it was as if they had no idea that Haman was destroyed by Mordechai and Esther! From the way they spoke, you’d think that they actually thought Haman was still alive and still a real danger. Hello!? Obama, Harvard graduate. Netanyahu, MIT graduate. I expect more from these intelligent men.

Maybe they should join us tonight as we read the story of Purim! Hey, maybe they will accept my invitation and join us!? It is Purim, ya never know!!! (A reminder not to take anything I do or say over the next 24 hours seriously – some of you never take me seriously, so this will be easy for you!)

What bothered me most of all was the chutzpah of our President and the Prime Minister to hijack AIPAC’s extremely important Policy Conference to shamelessly push Purim upon 13,000 pro-Israel supporters. I would NEVER do such a thing, especially since we have such huge problems facing Israel, including Iran and the global delegitimization campaign against the Jewish State.

This being said, we do need to put aside our worries as the sunsets tonight, put on our costumes, shake our groggers and raise our glasses! Because, Mordechai and Esther stopped Haman and we Jews are still here! And, you know what? We will continue to follow in the footsteps of Mordechai and Esther – doing whatever we need to do to stop evil and centuries from now, we Jews will still be here!

It is time to get in the mood for Purim people! Click here, crank it up and enjoy. Don’t be shy! Share with your kids and your co-workers.

Bring your kids at 6:15 tonight for our Kids’ Purim Celebration!
Adults (and teens), join us from 7:00PM-8:00PM for our PG-13 Purim Extravaganza (babysitting for K-5 free of charge), including our infamous Shpiel and our Rabbi, Cantor, Executive and Educational Directors in absurd costumes. If you are brave enough, come in costume yourself! And leave room for hamantaschen.

PURIM SAMEACH/HAPPY PURIM,

Rabbi Andrew Jacobs

PURIM HACKERS….

HEAR YE, HEAR YE!!!!

We, Mordechai and Esther, have hacked into BLOG SHALOM to send you an important message.

Purim, the holiday that celebrates our incredible accomplishments against Haman and his evil plans, begins at sundown on March 7th and continues through sundown on March 8th. Because of us (Mordechai and Esther), you get to celebrate, dress up, laugh and have a great time. You are welcome!

But we, Mordechai and Esther, are alarmed by a growing trend we are seeing among modern day Jews. Would you celebrate Thanksgiving a week early? Would you move Chanukah up a few days? Would you have your Memorial Day picnic on the Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend? Of course you wouldn’t!!! You are not insane (at least most of you aren’t)!!!

So we, Mordechai and Esther, are pleading with you: PLEASE keep the PUR in PURIM. Celebrate this joyful holiday on Purim, on March 8/9.

To insure that you adhere to our plea, we, Mordechai and Esther, have “tinkered” with things a bit and insured that there will be NO Purim Carnival at Ramat Shalom on March 4th (and really people, why should there be!? Would you eat matzah before Passover!?). Instead, all of your Purim festivities at Ramat Shalom will be taking place as the sun goes down on March 7th. We assure you that not one of the organizers of the Purim Carnival that was planned for March 4th has been harmed in any way. One of them did receive a series of hang up phone calls in the middle of the night, but that was not us. It was Barbara in the office. She tends to do these type of things.

You and your children are invited to join the Children’s Purim Celebration from 6:15pm-6:45pm on Wednesday March 7th in the sanctuary. All children are welcome to attend. Remember, 3rd-7th grade children will already be there in Torah School. Parents, younger children (and their parents), please join in. Costumes please!!!

From 7:00pm-8:00pm on March 7th, adults and teens are strongly urged to attend Ramat Shalom’s main Purim Extravaganza, featuring a Megillah reading, a PG-13-ish Purim Shpiel (Purim play featuring your ridiculous Rabbi, Cantor and Executive/Torah School/ECC Directors ), hamantaschen and “adult” beverages. We, Mordechai and Esther, are covering the cost for babysitting for your little ones (K-5). You are welcome. Again, costumes please (adults too)!!!

Everything is FREE!!!

Oh, and just a little FYI, you will NOT believe what your Rabbi and Cantor are wearing for Purim.

Thank you for your time in reading our plea. Please be sure to join your community on March 7th.

If you have any questions, please call Barbara in the office at 954-472-3600. And ask her about the late night phone calls!

What The Hamantaschen Have Taught Me

As you know, my kids and I have spent lots of time this week baking hamantaschen for our Ramat Shalom family. From scratch, we made over 2,000 hamantaschen! It took us about 20 hours to make the dough, fold the individual hamantaschen, and fill them with chocolate, raspberry, or strawberry filling. It was hard work – but it was fun spending the time together and giving back to our community.

Our first few batches of hamantaschen were rather sad looking. We laughed as various odd shapes came out of the oven with filling oozing and bubbling all over the place. It took us awhile to get into a routine and learn how to make decent looking treats that resembled the three cornered hat that the wicked Haman supposedly wore. But, we did it. And when we did, I noticed (sadly) that while the hamantaschen were looking more “hamantasheny” – some of the laughter that was part of our first few batches was gone. We were now serious bakers on a mission to craft the perfect Purim cookie.

After our first day of baking, we took time to sample our work. We each loved the beautiful hamantaschen that came from the last batch of the day – picture perfect, three cornered cookies. And the taste matched their perfect appearance. Really good! To our surprise, however, the funny looking hamantaschen from earlier in the day tasted just as good. Cheryl thought they tasted even better than the nicer looking ones. Maybe it was the laughter involved with putting the early ones together? Perhaps I was a bit delirious from spending so many hours baking, or perhaps it was just the absurdity of the Purim holiday getting to me, but I started to think about the lessons I was learning from these little, three cornered cookies.

1. While a few hours of practice made my kids and me “master hamantaschen makers” – our new found “experience” and “skills” replaced some of the silliness that came with being clueless “hamantaschen makers”. Yes, with knowledge comes power – but with knowledge, the carefree joy, innocence, and giggling associated with being “clueless bakers” disappears.

2. The funny looking cookies tasted just as good, if not better than the good-looking ones. Certainly, I already knew that “judging a book by its cover” was a foolish thing to do. But the great taste of our ugly hamantaschen was a good lesson for my kids and an important reminder for me. At the same time, however, my kids suggested that we should toss the ugly hamantaschen. “Why!?” I wanted to know. “Because, dad, they might taste good, but who is going be brave enough to put those funny looking things in their mouths!?” Appearance shouldn’t matter. But, when it comes to hamantaschen, people want a three cornered, hat-like cookie. If they don’t get that – they will be upset.

As I prepared to toss our ugly hamantaschen, I looked at them closely as they sat pathetically next to the pretty hamantaschen and, boom, it hit me: the ugly and the pretty – the lesson of Purim. Again, maybe just too much inhaling of flour and sugar – but side by side the ugly and the pretty hamantaschen beautifully captured the dichotomy of Purim. On the one hand we have the wonderful story of the Jews defeating the bad guy and, on the other hand, we have the frightening story of the sinister Haman and his plot to annihilate the Jews. Purim is incomplete without both sides of this story. Without the “ugly” side – there would be no need for the “pretty” side of Mordechai and Esther saving the day. Without the “pretty” side – well, there would be no Purim celebration because Haman would have won and we would have been wiped out.

“Sorry guys,” I said to my kids as I saved the ugly hamantaschen from the trashcan. “These ugly guys are not going anywhere.” As I explained why we were not tossing them, Abigail bit into one of the nicest looking hamantaschen we had made – big, triangular, golden brown. Within seconds, her face twisted in disgust as she exclaimed: “Ewwww……I just ate a raspberry one. I hate raspberry, grooooooossssss!!!!!” Jonah quickly grabbed a chocolate one from the ugly pile. “Here,” he said as he handed it to Abigail. “You love chocolate!” A bite of the ugly chocolate hamantaschen did the trick. “Phew,” said Abigail, “that got the bad taste out of my mouth!!!”

Right then those hamantaschen shared another little lesson with me. Just because something is beautiful on the outside, it doesn’t mean its inside is appealing to us. And, visa-versa, just because something is funny looking on the outside doesn’t mean that its inside is not appealing to us. Within the beautiful, victorious story of Purim, we must never forget that there lies a sinister plot to kill every single Jew. At the same time, within the nastiness of Haman and his horrific plot, lies the sweet triumph of the Jews over evil.

Yet again, our hamantaschen let me see the dichotomy of Purim. There is no joy without pain. No victory without a struggle. You can’t appreciate how good a chocolate hamantaschen is until you bite into one that contains a filling you despise. Additionally, you need to learn what the other fillings taste like before you know which one you truly like. This brings us back to the concept of knowledge.

As with anything, knowledge has its downsides. My kids and I stopped laughing when we mastered our baking skills and our hamantaschen started to look good. Queen Esther stopped living carefree in the castle once she learned about the plight of her people and stood up and won her people’s safety and security. But, with knowledge comes true understanding. In our case – it was as simple as learning how to bake a cookie. In Queen Ester’s case, it was realizing that the beauty and happiness of life within the walls of the palace was just a part of her life. The other part included the ugly fact that enemies were out to destroy her people and she had the obligation to act.

We can choose to toss the ugly hamantaschen into the trashcan and surround ourselves with the good-looking cookies. We can do this literally and symbolically – surrounding ourselves with only good things. But, when we do this, we ignore the reality of life: there is bad stuff out there. If we are not afraid of it, the bad stuff (whether it be the hamantaschen filling we don’t like or something much, much worse) has the ability to teach us invaluable lessons. From the bad, we learn what our blessings truly are. By wrestling with the hard parts of life, we grow and develop new skills. As we accept the reality that life is filled with both the good and the bad, we learn to look beneath the surface and appreciate that what lies within something “pretty” can be “pretty awful” and that within the “ugly” are some of the most beautiful gifts life holds for us.

As I am always looking for an opportunity to quote a great country music song, I quickly realized that Garth Brooks’ “The River” captures perfectly the lesson I learned from my hamantaschen baking experience. In the song, Brooks compares life to a journey on a river. In order to get to where we need to be, we have to go downstream. But this journey might involve rough, dangerous waters that we would rather avoid:

Too many times we stand aside And let the waters slip away ‘Til what we put off ’til tomorrow Has now become today So don’t you sit upon the shoreline And say you’re satisfied Choose to chance the rapids And dare to dance the tide…yes There’s bound to be rough waters And I know I’ll take some falls But with the good Lord as my captain I can make it through them all. I will sail my vessel ‘Til the river runs dry Like a bird upon the wind These waters are my sky I’ll never reach my destination If I never try So I will sail my vessel ‘Til the river runs dry.

Purim is all about riding the rough waters to get to a better place and eating the ugly hamantaschen to get to the sweet chocolate inside.

I hope that you had a chance to pick up the hamantaschen Abigail, Jonah, and I made for you this week. Given what we learned from them, my kids and I tried to insure that every bag had a good mix of pretty and ugly hamantaschen. We hope you noticed that the ugly ones tasted even better than the pretty ones. May these wonderful little cookies that bring us so much joy and happiness, while at the same time reminding us of one of the worst guys in Jewish history, encourage us all to see the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly as life’s lessons. It is only by embracing these lessons that we truly travel through life.

Please make sure you attend our Saturday Purim Shpiel @ 8:00PM – or one near you. (See you at the dinner if you RSVP’d) and our Purim Carnival on Sunday from 10AM-1PM (Opening Ceremonies, Children’s Megillah Reading and Costume Parade @ 10AM). And join us tonight for Kabbalat Shabbat services at 8:00PM where I will share some more lessons that I learned from the hamantaschen.