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August 30, 2015 | 15th Elul 5775

The Roar of the Gragger

March 4, 2001
Marc Rosenstein

Once again I find myself on the Purim committee. Here at Shorashim, every year in September a list of the holidays is posted on the bulletin board, in the hope that each holiday committee will attract a sufficient number of volunteers. The standing synagogue committee takes responsibility for services; the holiday committees deal with any other aspects of the celebration, like a communal dinner on Rosh Hashana, a hike and cookout on Yom Ha’atzma'ut, etc. Many of us have “traditions” already, signing up for the same holiday year after year. I don’t know just how I got to Purim. It is a holiday that I like in principle, but when it actually comes, I keep finding myself wishing it were over already.

This year, as in previous ones, our observance will include an evening service and Megila reading, a party for adults, and a carnival for kids. Exchange of mishloach manot will be uncontrolled this year, after last year’s lottery didn’t get such good reviews. And we hope to introduce matanot evyonim (gifts to the poor) this year, asking everyone to bring canned goods to the Megila reading, to be delivered to the soup kitchen in Karmiel. Normally, families are asked by the committee to set up and operate booths at the carnival; but this year, the youth group (No’am - Noar Masorti) approached us two weeks before the holiday, and asked if they could take responsibility for the carnival. Our committee felt as though Purim had already come and we had been redeemed from an evil fate!

Of the various Purims I have celebrated, there is one aspect to Purim here at Shorashim that I always especially appreciate. For some reason, the Megila reading here is always a perfect combination of order and chaos, of silliness and seriousness, of making noise and listening. Each chapter is read by a different member - generally the same person every year - and in several cases, people for whom this is their one commitment to the synagogue. Some can read from the scroll, others “cheat,” chanting from a book with cantillation marks. And there are always a few teenagers among the readers. We have a home-made “stoplight” with red and green bulbs, that stands next to the reader, and a pre-teen standing at the switch. I can’t understand why it works so well, but the graggers and horns go silent the instant the light changes from green to red. I guess we have a lot of visual learners...

If Purim generally feels endless in Israel, this year it is even longer: Purim parties in schools are on Wednesday, no school on Thursday (if Thursday were the last day of school, then the parties would be held then - but it is the Fast of Esther, not an appropriate day for a public celebration); Friday is Purim itself; and then Shushan Purim (when Purim is observed in walled cities like Jerusalem - see Esther 9:17-19), which can’t be celebrated on Shabbat, is postponed until Sunday. And there you have it, a five day holiday!

There may be no holy day that feels less holy than Purim. The story is almost slapstick comedy, with a number of “problems” (for example: mixed marriage!). And, of course, the Megila’s story is a classic expression of the Diaspora experience. And yet, time and again, it seems to respond to the historical reality in which we find ourselves, even here. In my ten years in Israel, two Purims stand out: the Gulf War ended on Purim. What an amazing coincidence (?): a real and scary threat (gas masks, sealed rooms, air raid sirens...) really came to and end on the very day we were to celebrate the end of Haman’s threat; we didn’t have to play at rejoicing! And then, several years later, there was a terrible, deadly bombing in the center of Tel Aviv on the day before Purim; children were killed in their costumes. And we had to gather that evening and rejoice in our redemption, feeling the helplessness that the Jews of Shushan must have felt when the decree was published. Maybe there is something to that Midrash that says that the only holiday that won’t be abolished after the messiah comes is Purim. Bad news for the Purim committee.


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