St. Patrick’s Day Meets Purim

Green bagelsThis year is particularly exciting on the interfaith front regarding Purim and St. Patrick’s Day, as they coincide within one day. St. Patrick’s Day is Monday, March 17, as always and Purim starts the evening of Saturday, March 15. I see some green bagels in town, which is not quite the same as a fine pint of Guinness Stout, but it’s nice to see everyone getting involved and joyfully celebrating. Break out the green hamantaschen!

I love tradition. I love holidays. I love people. I love any time taken apart from the ordinary to celebrate life and freedom, be with our friends and family and offer a toast to what we value most.

Saint Patty’s Day represents the arrival of Christianity in Ireland and is greatly celebrated by the Irish diaspora. In America and other countries, there are parades, festivals, everybody wears green and celebrations abound with eating and drinking, song and revelry. What a perfect blend of holidays coming on the heels of Purim! As a Jewish American who married a girl from a proud Irish Catholic background, the opportunities to honor both holidays while having quite a festive time are fantastic.

Purim also celebrates with lots of eating and drinking. Some people like to get so “religious” that they can’t tell the difference between Mordecai and Haman (not an easy feat of drunken revelry) when you hear the traditional reading of the Megillah. Costumes are key too, turning the roles and appearances in our daily life on their heads.

Rather than expound on the story of Esther, which you can find in our interfaith resources by clicking here, I decided to explore the sacred origins of how Jewish people relate to those who are not Jewish. More specifically, I want to examine the tradition of alcohol in celebration.

We learn early on in the study of Torah that we are all descendants from original creation in the story of Adam and Eve. And since all of us are descendants from Adam and Eve, we are created in the image of God. Everyone is holy and no one is better than another person inherently by birth. That is clear.

It is also chiefly undisputed by Jewish scholars that Adam and Eve were not “Jewish.” Judaism was not created until much later in the Torah when Abraham comes into the picture. The great tale of Noah and the flood provides a nice segue between these tales. Noah was a tzaddik, a righteous person. And what does he do in his first act as a free man in a new land? Noah plants a vineyard of grapes, makes wine and gets drunk. (Genesis 9:20) That’s right, the first order of celebratory business was to imbibe in alcohol. Perhaps planting vineyards was his new line of work in the New World that he was building.

Shortly after Noah’s debaucherous celebration of the new promise, the very first blessing ceremony in the Torah as far as I can tell involves Malkezedek, King of Salem, who brought out the bread and wine (sounds like kiddush) and blessed our father Abraham of “The God Most High.” (Genesis 14:18-19) Not only another celebration, but also a measurement of how indeed to do a timeless blessing.

There is a time and a place for everything. And when it comes to joy, open doors are much better than a “members only” mentality.

I hope that the Jewish community will continue to open our doors to all to share the joy and fun of Purim as the Irish Catholic culture has done to embrace the world in celebration. Because the more the Jewish world shines our light from our beautiful tradition and shares the fun with our families, the brighter our collective light of humanity will be shining in the world and back to our Creator.

How an Interfaith Wedding Couple Made Me Think About Queen Esther’s Marriage

A couple of months ago I officiated at the wedding of a wonderful couple—the bride was Jewish and the groom was Christian. Several days after the wedding, I received the following email from the bride, Susan (not her real name):

Rabbi,

I have a question for you about Purim. Esther married the king, who wasn’t Jewish, and ended up saving her people. If she had not married the king, all of the Jews in the kingdom would have died. Extrapolating from this example, why is it considered such a bad thing for one to marry outside of the Jewish faith?

Susan

PurimWhat a great question! Susan made a good point. In Megillat Esther (The Book of Esther, where we find the Purim story), the beautiful young Jewish Esther marries the Persian King Ahasuerus. At first, following the instructions of her cousin Mordechai, Esther hides the fact that she is Jewish. But when the evil Haman convinces the king that all of the Jews in the kingdom should be killed, Mordechai tells Esther that she should go to the king and reveal her true identity. At first Esther refuses, explaining to Mordechai that the king hasn’t summoned her for the past thirty days, and if she goes before the king without being summoned he may order that she be killed. But Mordechai replies, in words that have become very famous: “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” (Esther 4:13-14 – JPS translation)

Having been convinced by Mordechai’s powerful words of her responsibility to her people, Esther, after fasting for three days, goes before the king. Ultimately, Esther reveals to the king that she is a Jew, and she asks that the Jews of Persia not be exterminated. The evil Haman is impaled on the stake which he had put up for Mordechai, and the Jews survive.

So here’s how I responded to Susan’s email:

Susan,

Over the years rabbis and Jewish commentators have offered various explanations about Esther’s marriage to the gentile Persian king.  Of course the explanations/commentaries generally reflect more about the writer/commentator (who often has his—and historically it always was a “him”—own agenda/bias he is trying to promote when commenting on the text) than they reflect about the text. There are rabbis (clearly opposed to intermarriage) who have claimed that Esther was forced to marry the king against her will.  The Zohar even says that the Shekhinah concealed Esther’s soul and sent another soul in its place, so that when King Ahasuerus slept with Esther, he wasn’t sleeping with the real Esther.

Of course the biblical text doesn’t say this at all. In the biblical text itself no judgment is made on Esther marrying out of her faith. And as you point out, by marrying someone who wasn’t Jewish, Esther ended up saving her people.

So here’s what I have to say about Esther: By marrying a man who wasn’t Jewish, and ultimately “coming out” to her husband, the king, as a Jew, Esther saves her people. The text doesn’t comment on the fact that Esther is in an interfaith marriage, and I agree that she should be held out as a positive example to interfaith couples.  

In my view, the only thing Esther should be faulted for in the story is denying Mordechai’s first request to tell the King that she is Jewish, though she does this because she fears that the king may have her killed. But at Mordechai’s urging she ultimately reveals her true identity to the king and in doing so she saves the Jewish people. The bottom line is: There’s no problem with Esther’s intermarriage—the only problem would have been keeping her Jewish identity secret.  

Esther can be a terrific role model for the idea that it’s OK to marry someone who isn’t Jewish so long as you openly and proudly maintain your connection to Judaism and the Jewish people. And just like Esther, you could end up “saving” the Jewish people along the way. The problem is NOT intermarriage…it is when someone stops identifying as a Jew.  

Once again, Susan, mazel tov on your wedding. May you, like Esther, have a husband who supports you in that which is most important to you and honors your connection to Judaism and the Jewish people. And may you always be proud of your Jewish identity.

Rabbi Robyn

Purim: Not Just for Kids

A few years ago, I went to my niece’s bat mitzvah and was delighted that they had a Mardi Gras theme. The room was decked out with tents, each one housing costumes for the guests. With lots of beads and masks, partygoers went into the tents and came out looking mysterious. I thought it was cute to celebrate Mardi Gras at a bat mitzvah. Then I realized it was all about Purim.

It was amusing to see the merriment. Guests were joking about characters from the Megillah, the Book of Esther that’s read on Purim: The beautiful queen Esther, the “starter wife” Vashti, the silly king Ahashverosh, the villain Haman, and the wonderful hero Mordechai.

I was so amused to think of the Purim story and see some similarity to Mardi Gras. If you took Mardi Gras and mixed it with Halloween, it would look something like Purim. Purim is a fun-filled holiday with a wonderful story of good guys, bad guys, kings, and queens — and it has a kind ending. But I had always thought of it as a holiday for kids.

This year, our synagogue is putting together a Purim program using popular music. It is based on “Saturday Night Fever” and a cast singing mostly Bee Gee’s music. Songs like “Jive Talkin’” (to Ahashverosh) and “More Than a Woman” are turning out to be quite adaptable to the holiday. I had thought that so many aspects of Judaism were for kids, but our community is having fun merging music from the 1970s with the ancient story of love and rescue. And the kids are getting a lesson in American culture, singing the infamous song by Kool & the Gang, “Celebrate Pu-rim come on!”

If you are looking for a fun Saturday night party with modern themes, and maybe some alcohol, check out your community’s Purim festivities. There are events for young and old, hip and square, kids and adults, everyone! You might just have a blast! Now if you will excuse me, I have to go dust off my disco shoes…

Purim: Family Fun

Purim is a great holiday for families and kids: there are costumes, excuses to make noise and act silly, and many communities have parties, carnivals or other celebrations appropriate for the littlest members or our families (or those who feel young at heart). This post is about making Purim fun for the whole family. Let us know how your family celebrates by sharing your customs, ideas and suggestions in the comments!

The mom who blogs at Bible Belt Balabusta explains that she’s “worked hard to go from zero to….whatever speed I’m going these days, and I love sharing what I’ve learned with anyone who is even vaguely interested.” She’s all about the DIY as she says, “I especially love the ‘why’ behind it: I explore the customs and traditions behind holiday projects. If I’m learning, I’m happy.” So I was totally excited to see her LEGO gragger for Purim, that actually works! But if that’s still not geekily awesome enough for you, she has 4 different models and instructions to make your own. Amazing.

In a recent blog post for the URJ, Rabbi Vicki Tuckman explained the importance of being a “kitchen Jew.”

There is not a Jewish holiday that comes around that I do not partially practice – and reinforce my own Jewish identity as a cultural Jew – in the kitchen. To me, Mordecai Kaplan was correct when he first stated in 1934 that “Judaism is more than a religion; it is an entire civilization. Not merely religious texts but also language, literature, and even arts and crafts are a part of it.”

Kaplan taught that Jews would be drawn to new and exciting forms of Judaism that simultaneously retain “strong ties to the past”. Speaking as a “Kitchen Jew” – Purim provides wonderful opportunities for observing this holiday in addition to making costumes, attending a Purim Shpiel, and buying multitudes of tickets for your children to play games at the Purim Carnival. Not to put down these activities, for what is Purim without coming home from the Purim Carnival with bags of goldfish soon-to-be-named Vashti and Esther?

So how can you bring Purim into your kitchen? There’s plenty to bake on Purim! Looking for a way to explain hamantaschen, a popular Purim treat, to your kids or their friends? Check out Shalom Sesame’s video on making hamantaschen. Want some recipes? Check out our hamantaschen recipes, including a video recipe for “slacker hamantaschen” (what could be easier than 2 ingredients?). Or maybe you’d rather try some recipes for orejas de Haman (“Haman’s ears”) a Purim treat from the Sephardi communities.

As a bonus, there’s always the intersection between kitchen Judaism and math. Yes, math. Because you too can bake your way to the “Sierpinski Hamantaschen.”What’s that? “You may be familiar with the Sierpinski triangle, a mathematically attractive, self-repeating fractal that starts with one equilateral triangle and breaks down into ever-smaller triangles.” Some basics of the Sierpinski triangle:

First of all, when rotated to any side, it looks the same; I couldn’t even tell where I’d started it. Also, as the triangles get smaller, notice a pattern in the quantity of each size: 1, 3, 9, 27…. I’m sure it would go on if I could make really really tiny hamantaschen, but I don’t have that much power. Also, technically this triangle has no area, so maybe all the sugar doesn’t count? But careful with that logic: it has infinite perimeter, and that dough for the perimeter is full of not-healthy ingredients like flour and sugar and oil.

So bring your love of math to the kitchen, teach your kids about the wonders of fractals, and have fun creating this uberhamantaschen.

Kveller shares ideas for Purim crafts with kids: Purim dolls, cards and gift bags (mishloach manot).

Want a fun way to encourage your kids to act on one of Purim’s four commandments (mitzvot)? Try using unopened boxes of pasta as noisemakers during the reading of the Book of Esther (Megillat Esther). Shake those boxes for a satisfying rattling noise each time Haman’s name is read. Then donate the boxes of food to a local food bank, fulfilling the mitzvah (commandment) to give to the poor on Purim.

And, finally, for those of you with teens or older kids who appreciate the finer offerings of Broadway, enjoy this new video made by Reform rabbinic and cantoral students studying at HUC-JIR Jerusalem campus. “The Book of Purim” is a spoof of The Book of Mormon.

Happy Purim!

Slacker Hamantashen

Our friends at JewishBoston.com have been hard at work. Well, as “hard at work” as “slackers” can be. You see, they’ve come up with the simplest hamantaschen recipe ever.

It’s so simple, all you need are two ingredients. Seriously. It’s great for making hamantaschen at your office (as they did) or in a dorm room. And if my count is correct, you only need five other items in addition to your two ingredients: a paper cup (“cookie cutter”), a paper plate (serving double duty as a “spatula” and a “plate”), a can opener (optional, depending on your hamantaschen filling), a spoon (optional, depending on the filling type) and a toaster oven. Done.

Watch their video for the recipe and instructions. (You might recognize Liz from our Hanukkah video!)

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you might also check out our other hamantaschen recipes, submitted by InterfaithFamily.com readers like you.

Enjoy!

Purim is Upon Us

I’m way behind on my Purim prep. Yes, I made hamantashen, last night, but I’m still writing my chapter of the Purimspiel, which will be performed on the eve of Purim–Saturday night! My husband is making my son’s costume. (I cannot tell you what my son wants to be for Purim, or I will start cackling hysterically again.)  I am going as…a very tired mom, probably, even though I think that’s what I went as last year.

What a great holiday for introducing your non-Jewish partner, friend or relative to the Jewish community, though. It’s traditional to have parties, eat yummy sweets, drink alcoholic beverages and dress up in costumes. It was also the start of Jewish theater–the Purimspiel, based on the Book of Esther, is always full of satire. (And sometimes actual humor. Jokes, anyway.) Plus it’s a holiday all about a Jewish woman who preserves her religious and cultural identity in an intermarriage and saves the Jewish people. Can’t say better than that.

Here’s this year’s 92nd Street Y Purim video. It’s about a werewolf dentist. I have no idea why it’s about a werewolf and not a vampire, but whatever. Enjoy.

Be Happy

Do you celebrate your birthday on the Jewish calendar?  February, in addition to Valentine’s Day and Purim, two great holidays for interfaith couples, happens to contain my son’s and my husband’s birthdays. My son was born on the first day of Jewish month of Adar, the month in which Purim falls, which is traditionally a month of rejoicing.

If you were hurting for celebratory days–and if you are in an interfaith family, I know you aren’t, having at least one or two calendars of them to choose from–it might be nice to celebrate your birthday on the Jewish calendar. (Especially if you aren’t Jewish, that would make it cooler!)

If you want to find out when you were born in the Hebrew calendar, Hebcal.com has this date converter. Just put in your secular calendar birthday (including the year!) and you’ll get your Hebrew birthday.

This is the song I was singing on the day my son was born–I had trouble finding a great recording. It means, “the one who brings in Adar multiplies happiness.” Something like that.

Birthdays are big with first-graders. My son knows that his Gregorian calendar birthday was also Gertrude Stein’s birthday, and the date of the Japanese holiday setsubun. Some of his classmates celebrate their half-birthdays or their name days, which is a Catholic custom that has apparently been secularized. So why not your Hebrew birthday?

It Was a Great Purim After All

I didn’t mean to let the entire Purim holiday go by without a greeting on our blog! Today I was the designated parent at home with my son, who has the bug that is going around. I think I’ve caught it too. I feel achy and chilled.

It’s not a hangover, though it feels like one. It’s traditional to get wasted on Purim but that’s one tradition I didn’t think fit my lifestyle this year. Nope, I didn’t have anything alcoholic to drink at the megillah reading last night. (The megillah, newbie Judaism fans, is the biblical Book of Esther, written on a scroll and traditionally chanted in Hebrew. Some people call it “the whole megillah.”)

Purim is a great holiday if you like to party and act silly. This is the first year in about 20 that I haven’t contributed writing to a purimspiel, a play that parallels the plot of the Book of Esther and features contemporary satire. It’s performed at the megillah reading. I did appear in other people’s sketches in the one we performed last night. (I got to wear a black cape!) It was fun, but I was sad that my son couldn’t be there. He’s been gearing up for Purim for a couple of weeks at Hebrew school. He was excited to dress up and be in a play. He was too sick and my husband decided to stay home with him.

This morning, there we were with a pile of articles that need to be edited for IFF, a stir-crazy child and a huge box of sugary treats. My mom sent a special new noisemaker for the kid to use during the megillah reading, and he was making head-splittingly awful noise with it.

I remembered one year when I was little that my parents read us the Book of Esther in English translation instead of taking us to synagogue to hear it read in Hebrew. I decided we could do that.  Continue reading

Purim is Coming

Purim comes but once a year and when it comes you know it’s here–because people get really silly. I am not sure whether this article about Christian salt is for real. Yes, OK, maybe there is someone out there who doesn’t understand that Jews use kosher salt for removing the blood from meat and feels weirded out by salt with a Jewish star on it. But this part of the article made me think this could be a put-on:

If the salt takes off, Godlewski plans an entire line of Christian-branded foods, including rye bread, bagels and pickles.

Oh come on, people! This has to be a Purim joke!

On the other hand, that Christmas decoration that looked in the photo like someone is burning a cross on your lawn that was all over the web last December turned out to be a real product from a real organization, so who knows.

Matthew Scott, who wrote a nice article for InterfaithFamily.com about being in an interfaith relationship and learning to cook and eat Jewish food, was one of several people to bring the Christian salt story to my attention. He was also the first person in my network to find the new 92nd Street Y Purim video, Meshugene Men–though I’d read about it on jbooks.com, in a fun interview with comedy writer Rob Kutner, who made the video. I’ve embedded it below the cut. Continue reading

Inside Baseball

search for hametz--with Google!My five-year-old son is very subtle. The morning after our Havurah Purim party, my son told me, “You know, not everyone knows what a Purimspiel is.”

“But you do, honey, because we saw one last night. It was the play people were acting out, about Queen Esther.”

He nodded. “But not everyone knows what that is.”

Sometimes my son will start using words correctly and then ask me later what they mean. I’m always sliding new words by him and finding out that he’s picked them up when he hands his dad a board book of the Noah’s Ark story with the request, “Read me the abridged version.” My big challenge is to introduce the words in such a way that he gobbles them up like a little Pac-Man and doesn’t shut off his attention.

This is also my challenge at my job. The difference is that I am writing here for adults who are, generally speaking, highly educated. Continue reading