Early in the summer of 2021, I went to pick up dinner at Chopt in the Arboretum on the way to Temple to lead Shabbat services. While waiting in line, I did a double-take: there were two college-age young women in line ahead of me and, well, they could have been me and a friend from 25 years ago. Their outfits, from hairstyle to shoes, looked like they walked out of the pages of a Delia’s catalog from 1995. I wish I had the presence of mind to surreptitiously sneak a photo. It was like looking into a scene from Back to the Future, but the 90s version.
As it turns out, it seems that I have reached the age where I am old enough that “young” people adopt the dress of my youth. Enough time has passed where our styles are again on-trend. Each generation goes through this, yes? I clearly remember covering my early 90s preteen self in peace signs and flowers, a flower child after my own mother’s heart. Now our teens wear flannels, baby doll dresses, and Doc Martens (actually, those never went out of style).
There is nothing new under the sun, Kohelet reminds us. There is nothing new, only the way that each generation and each individual interprets that which exists, that which continues into the existence that is our lifetime. We know that this is true of Torah, whose never-changing letters we meet year after year, yet are enriched because we each see them through the uniqueness of our lived experience.
The Purim story is no different. It is an old tale that requires modern interpretation. The Book of Esther – Megillat Esteir – was likely one of the last to enter the cannon of the Hebrew Bible, as late as the late Second Temple period. The text is a rich satire of Persian culture and a dark confrontation of the insecurity of Jews in that historical moment. It is an uncomfortable text, if we read it in its fullness. The book of Esther is dark covering such themes as the abuse of power, dishonesty, inauthenticity, anti-Jewish sentiment, plots of genocide, violent retaliation, taking vengeance, rejoicing in another’s downfall, and more.
For hundreds of years, Jewish people have been telling the complex story of Esther, Mordechai, Haman, and the rest through the interpretive lens of their own experience in a Purim Shpiel. Shpiels are often written as satire and viewers will have many opportunities to laugh. The jokes, songs, and slapstick comedy of many of today’s shpiels may warrant a hearty knee-jerk laugh, but they also leave room for nervous laughter, recognizing how dark the story is and also laughter as stress-relief, which we all need so desperately.
In this spirit of reinterpreting the old, with joy and with levity, Temple Beth El is proud to present Reality Bites the Megillah: A 90’s Purim Shpiel.
Dust of your flannels and crank up the Alanis Morisette. It is time to tell Esther’s story the way the Spice Girls, Brittney Spears, or the Backstreet Boys might have. The shpiel is basically like doing 90s karaoke, but all about Purim. We hope you join us on the morning of March 13. Please visit www.templebethel.org for the most up to date information about Purim at TBE, including more details about a family craft and Purim eve celebration.
But, if there’s a part of you that thinks that singing about Purim to the tune of “I’ll Be There for You” on the bima in front of your temple friends sounds like fun, please email me at CantorThomas@templebethel.org about opportunities to help on or off stage. There is room for absolutely everyone.
On Purim, we are meant to remember the challenges that Esther and her people faced, but also to experience joy as the Jews did in Esther 8:16: “The Jews enjoyed light and gladness, happiness and honor.” The four mitzvot of Purim are: hearing a reading of the megillah, partaking in a festive meal, giving gifts to friends and neighbors, and giving to those who are in need. While we bear witness to the complicated and dark story of Purim, we also bring light and joy into our own lives and those around us.