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Asking the Clergy: What can children learn from celebrating Purim?

Rabbi Susan Elkodsi, Malverne Jewish Center

Rabbi Susan Elkodsi, Malverne Jewish Center Credit: Helene Santo

Purim, on Wednesday and Thursday, commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people from annhilation in ancient Persia. This Jewish holiday’s traditions are joyous and include reading the megillah, or the scroll of Esther, acts of charity and child-oriented carnivals. Jewish clergy discuss the serious lessons for children amid Purim’s festivity.

Rabbi Susan Elkodsi

Malverne Jewish Center

There are many things children can learn from celebrating and learning about Purim, but one of the most important lessons is the importance of standing up for their beliefs and for what is right. In The Scroll of Esther, which tells the story of Purim, people are empowered to act — especially the women. Queen Vashti refused to “display her beauty” before the King’s drunken friends. Queen Esther could easily have distanced herself from her Jewish heritage and people, but she put her fears and personal concerns aside and approached King Ahasuerus to expose Haman’s plot to kill the Jews. While God’s presence in the story is certainly evident, God’s name is never mentioned. People are empowered to act; they don’t wait for a miracle from God to save the day. While it often seems as though evil is rewarded and “nice guys finish last,” Purim gives us hope that good will ultimately prevails if people are willing to take responsibility, speak up and step up. Haman, who was the king’s second-in-command, allowed his ego and emotions to get the better of him and ended up hanging on the gallows he had built for Esther’s uncle Mordechai, who had angered him by refusing to bow down before him. Haman’s evil plot to destroy the Jews was foiled and Mordechai, who had earlier saved the king’s life when he overheard a plot by two of the palace guards, was elevated in his place. Being empowered means finding the courage to act and displaying that courage in the face of adversity.

Rabbi Rafi Rank

Midway Jewish Center, Syosset

Anyone who has ever witnessed a Purim celebration in synagogue will know it’s a hoot-and-a-half, what with all the costumed parishioners creating pandemonium and handing out treats to all those present. It would be an unusually chaotic holiday for any house of worship, but it’s not all hubbub and hamantaschen (the triangle-shaped pastry eaten on Purim). Among the many lessons imparted are values such as, never take your friends for granted, hence the giving of gifts to acquaintances both new and old; provide for the needs of the poor, even in the midst of your own celebrations. Also, that a biblical text may be reason for celebration, and so a solemn reading of the Book of Esther transforms into a melodramatic presentation amid much noise-making to drown out the name of the wicked Haman whenever the name is mentioned. Finally, the most important lesson of all is to assure kids, and maybe all of us, that the bad guys don’t always win. The name of God, absent from the Book of Esther, leaves those in jeopardy to fend for themselves. The message here is instructive. When people band together to fight an injustice, when we summon the courage to oppose evil, our very efforts create the presence of God, and it is within that godly presence that victory is achieved. Could there be a lesson more important?

Rabbi Dovid Weinbaum

Youth director, Dix Hills Jewish Chai Center

Is Purim just a holiday for dressing up; eating, drinking and having fun; or is there a deeper meaning that we should be teaching our children? The story starts when King Ahasuerus invites the Jews to his magnificent party, and even offers kosher food. However, Mordechai, the Jewish leader there, cautioned the people to stay home: “This is not where a Jew belongs.” In today’s society, there are many places where our children don’t belong. As parents and educators, it is our moral obligation to teach our children “this is not for them.” Our duty as a parent and educator is not to be swayed by Hollywood and social media, but to stand strong in our values and beliefs. Did you know that God’s name is not mentioned at all in the megillah? Why? We see the miracle that occurred at that time. For me, this is a most important lesson to teach our children. We have to find God and miracles in our lives. How many times do things happen that don’t seem to make any sense? We are stuck in the moment and can’t see the bigger picture. At that moment, faith can waver. However, if we stand back and let God do his thing, then often miracles will happen. Let’s teach our kids to bring God into their lives and to live the way he wants us to. God does not want to restrict us, but rather make us better, more focused. So this Purim, when doing the four mitzvot — giving food gifts to a friend, charity to poor people, hearing the megillah and eating the festive meal — let’s live it to the full.

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