Celebrating Purim in a Topsy-Turvy World by Rabbi Asher Knight (Charlotte Jewish News Editorial Mar. 2019)

“Read me another book ……”
These are the regular words of the sleepy children in my household who are negotiating just before bedtime. Stories help to shape our understanding of ourselves and root us in the narrative of the world.

“Sing me another song…..”
These are the regular words of the children in my household – tucked into their beds, eyelids fluttering, listening to the melody of the Sh’ma. Songs help us to express our values and ideals: joy and gratitude, safety and friendship, sadness and mourning, longing and love.

As a parent and rabbi, I often wonder how to engender and encourage my children to feel knowledgeable enough to ultimately make their own Jewish journey when they become adults. The challenge, of course, is that Charlotte’s prevailing culture is decidedly not Jewish. Jewish culture, food, songs, stories, lessons, and virtues will not randomly seep into our consciousness without deliberate action. How do we create a strong sense of Jewish identity? Reading certain books and singing certain songs, celebrating certain holidays, and joyously living with the seasons and cycles of Jewish time.

This March brings us to Adar II, which brings us Purim, which brings us Haman. On Purim we are commanded to mirth and merriment. We read the story of Mordechai and Esther in the Megillah. We sing songs. We wear costumes. The Talmud goes so far as to say that we should drink until we can’t tell the difference between the “good guy,” Mordechai – and the “bad guy,” Haman.

Not knowing the difference between Haman and Mordechai is not just about tempering the categories of “good and evil.” It’s a powerful spiritual message. Our people’s journey isn’t over – sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between safety and security. The tides of trouble are still prevalent in our lives today. And on Purim, we tell the story of a people who dared to hope. We tell how they fought for safety, freedom, and opportunity. We learn that our ancestors could not have done it alone. In this crazy, topsy-turvy world, neither can we.

Come celebrate Purim with Temple Beth El on Sunday, March 17 at 11:00 am. Members of our congregation will tell the story of Esther, Mordechai, and Haman to the music of the wildly popular Hamilton. The shpiel is appropriate for community members of all ages. We will conclude shortly after noon so that we can head over to the LJCC Purim Carnival. And as we celebrate – whether you wear a costume or not, whether you raise a toast or not, try to think of one way the songs and the stories of this holiday bring you a sense of Jewish belonging, purpose, connection, and joy. Chag Purim Sameach!