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Purim is a holiday that holds a special place in my Jewish heart for a number of reasons. I have a fond childhood memory of celebrating Purim by marching in the annual parade, dressed as the Shushan characters. When I taught religious school, Purim’s arrival signaled Pesach, and the end of my Sunday-morning commitment was not far behind. As an adult, I learned about the suggestion of drinking to the point of being unable to tell the difference between Mordechai (the good guy) and Haman (the bad guy).
So how do we celebrate this holiday today? My synagogue, B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, IL, continues with the tradition of a tumultuous carnival sponsored by the men’s club, at which the sisterhood runs the lunch/pizza booth sales and the youth groups work the games and prize area. I have noticed the Shushan characters of my childhood rare these days; now, families attempt to get another wear out of the previous fall’s Halloween costumes.
This shift in dressing up actually triggered a wonderful new Purim holiday twist, which followed the rollout of the WRJ-Israel Twinning program at the WRJ Assembly 2009, held in Toronto, Canada. There we met some delegates from Kehillat Darchei Noam in Ramat HaSharon, Israel. We learned more about the similarities and differences between Reform and Progressive Judaism in North American and Israel. We learned that life was not always so easy and that they had no building to call their own.
While we could not make the kinds of contributions that build buildings, we could share gifts. During a congregational trip in 2010, we shared a sisterhood scrapbook, cookbooks, and dreidels made in the U.S. Later, we learned that they began construction of their new building and we shared news of moving into our own new building. By 2013, we learned from their new president that they would be moving into their new building before the High Holidays, ending their 20-year project. Mazel tov!
What followed was a project, suggested by WRJ, to send gently used Halloween costumes to Israel to use for Purim costumes. We collected these costumes from our congregational members and sent four large boxes. We were thrilled to hear that this gesture not only offered our Israeli twin congregation/sisterhood families costumes to enjoy, but that the larger community in Israel also benefitted from our generosity. Though we needed to raise supplemental funds to cover shipping costs, all would agree it was a worthwhile and rewarding project.
While the Purim celebrations and unpacking of lessons continue, we here at BJBE continue to explore other ways to celebrate. In addition to hearing the Megillah read, we now have an adults-only masquerade party—a time to see our clergy and staff loosen up a bit. We offer a range of entertaining ideas, including spiels and karaoke, allowing for everyone to be simply fun-loving for a night. Through it all, the connection with our Israeli “twin” sisterhood remains—sometimes deeper, yet lasting and spanning the test of Jewish time.
Marla Goldberg is a member of Women of Reform Judaism’s executive committee.