Did you go to the Purim Concert?

Purim: Megilla Readings, Balls and Concerts (oh my; so many options)

As long ago as 1864, New York Jews attend­ed Purim Balls, a tra­di­tion now main­tained for the past 32 years at The Jew­ish Muse­um. And, not only in New York, but also Bev­er­ly Hills, CA, Min­neapo­lis, MN and Akron, OH where young women are pre­sent­ed as “Esthers” to await­ing (Jew­ish?) Aha­suerus­es.
The sto­ry of Esther and our under­stand­ing of Purim seems to change with the times.

Purim and Politics

The sto­ry of Purim has been asso­ci­at­ed with polit­i­cal issues (and intrigue) since the Book of Esther was writ­ten.
In our own day…
Then First Lady Lau­ra Bush seemed to insert her hus­band Pres­i­dent George W. Bush into the Esther sto­ry when she cir­cu­lat­ed a let­ter to an evan­gel­i­cal newslet­ter, stat­ing with a quote from Esther 4:14 (אִם-לְעֵת כָּזֹאת empha­sis mine):

In Ohio, I vis­it­ed with a woman who summed up our suc­cess this way. She said, “Pres­i­dent Bush was born for such a time as this. He nev­er wavers when it comes to doing the right thing. It makes me feel so secure to know that our leader has such a love for our coun­try.”

This idea that Pres­i­dent Bush was the con­tem­po­rary embod­i­ment of Queen Esther was soon exam­ined by oth­ers.

For those curi­ous about the, par­tic­u­lar­ly Chris­t­ian, use of this phrase, con­sid­er:

A more strik­ing appli­ca­tion of the Esther sto­ry in recent pol­i­tics relates to the rise of Sarah Palin. Three cita­tions suf­fice.

Sarah Palin as Queen (Esther?)

We Jews have also looked to the Purim sto­ry and Esther’s choic­es.
In 2008, Ziona Green­wald wrote “Purim, Pow­er, And Pol­i­tics”. She used the sto­ry to point out the arro­gance of lead­ers, a trait that leads to their down­fall (her exam­ple: Elliot Spitzer).

That’s one of the many thoughts that have crossed my mind since the Eliot Spitzer scan­dal broke. Spitzer is not the first pub­lic fig­ure to fall from grace, but the hypocrisy of his actions is stun­ning, almost poignant. Behold, one of the most arro­gant politi­cians of our time, who fash­ioned him­self the right­eous zealot root­ing out cor­rup­tion in high places, resigns in a mud­bath of moral dis­grace.

In his 2016 arti­cle “In God’s Absence: Pol­i­tics in the Purim Sto­ry” which appeared (appro­pri­ate­ly) in Hadas­sah mag­a­zine, David Hazony wrote:

But looked at more close­ly, this well-known sto­ry pos­es some dif­fi­cult ques­tions. Every twist in the intri­cate plot is described as tak­ing place at the ini­tia­tive of human beings. So why does the Bible include this utter­ly polit­i­cal sto­ry in which God is nev­er men­tioned, and bib­li­cal his­to­ry and tra­di­tions like the covenant of Abra­ham and the laws of Moses are absent? Even the hol­i­day of Purim itself, which Morde­cai and Esther estab­lished, is the first Jew­ish fes­ti­val that isn’t the result of a divine com­mand. Indeed, in the Book of Esther, every­thing that God once did for Israel is now por­trayed as being done by the Jews them­selves.

A Time Such As This?

Two weeks before Purim 5778 (Feb­ru­ary 14, 2018) a young man killed 17 stu­dents and fac­ul­ty at Stone­man Dou­glas High School The Wikipedia arti­cle about the shoot­ing men­tions that the shoot­er had “anti-black and anti-Mus­lim” ten­den­cies, but does not men­tion that he also expressed anti-Semit­ic views and at one time had dec­o­rat­ed his back­pack with Nazi sym­bols. The high school’s stu­dent body is 40% Jew­ish and near­ly 30% of those killed were Jews. Nonethe­less, the memo­r­i­al site for the dead at Pine Trails Park con­sists of cross­es. A recent arti­cle in Haaretz by Natal­ie Lif­son rais­es these issues and the dis­turb­ing respons­es she received on doing so.
Lifson’s arti­cle does not men­tion Purim. How­ev­er, the Deutch sib­lings Gab­by, Ser­e­na, and Cole, who grew up in near­by Boca Raton feel there is a con­nec­tion.

I think it’s a hol­i­day that with­in the Jew­ish world, at least with­in more lib­er­al Jew­ish cir­cles, peo­ple take a lot of mes­sages of social jus­tice from, so I think with that in mind it made sense to use it,” she [Gab­by] said.

The Deutch Siblings

The Deutch Sib­lings

Hamentaschen

In response to the shoot­ing, and in sol­i­dar­i­ty with the vic­tims, the sib­lings have orga­nized an effort among Jew­ish stu­dent groups around the coun­try to bake and sell hamen­taschen. They view this as an effort to raise aware­ness and funds on behalf of Every­town for Gun Safe­ty and the March for Our Lives. Oth­er youth groups are also involved in sim­i­lar efforts for gun con­trol.
Like Purim itself, hamen­taschen have also tak­en on var­i­ous mean­ings through the years, from “Haman’s pock­ets” to “Haman’s ears”. While trav­el­ing in Switzer­land in 2010 we saw com­pa­ra­ble pas­tries called Pfaf­fen­hüet­ti (“Pope’s Hats”).

Pfaf­fen­hüet­ti at a Pat­tis­erie in Switzer­land 2010


And, as I have writ­ten else­where, on Jan­u­ary 22, 2002, stu­dents at Reed Col­lege decid­ed to bake hamen­taschen in hon­or of Roe V. Wade day. I have since learned that the event may, actu­al­ly, have been that year on Valentine’s Day in hon­or of “V-Day”. Years lat­er in Lilith Mag­a­zine, Susan Schnur wrote: “The Once and Future Wom­an­tascn: Cel­e­brat­ing Purim’s Full Moon as “Holy Body Day”.

Why Rab­bi Louis Feld­man made the wrong sign for Hamen­taschen

How Will You Celebrate Purim This Year?

By the ear­ly 1930s Jew­ish life in Ger­many was already under threat. How­ev­er, aside from deal­ing the the prob­lems of the Great Depres­sion, Jew­ish life in the Bronx con­tin­ued in a vibrant man­ner. Some­time dur­ing that decade, a Purim con­cert was held at the Ortho­dox Chevra Shom­rey Sabath syn­a­gogue at 335 Beek­man Ave. in the Bronx, NY.

335 Beekman Ave., Bronx, NY

335 Beek­man Ave., Bronx, NY


A Google search for -purim activ­i­ties new york 2018- brings up a pletho­ra of events. Many are child ori­ent­ed. It’s good to know that, even at a time, 80 years ago, when Jew­ish life was under assault in Europe, adults gath­ered to enjoy music at their Bronx syn­a­gogue in cel­e­bra­tion of Purim.

Some Purim resources

In 1976 I worked with Con­gre­ga­tion Beth Chay­im Chadashim in Los Ange­les. We pro­duced a fun retelling of the Megilla.

This lit­tle Purim-Shpeil is writ­ten for those small com­mu­ni­ties of dis­persed fam­i­lies that can’t gath­er on all the hol­i­days but can get toge­hter to cel­e­brate hol­i­days on the clos­est Shab­bat.
Please feel free to print and dupli­cate this text and use it in com­mu­ni­ty. It was devel­oped many years ago (Purim 1976) for BCC (Beth Chay­im Chadashim) and some­what refined a few times since then. The text has a num­ber of unusu­al puns regard­ing which I say: “HaMeivin Yavin.”
Most of the text is designed to be read by a “leader” and the “con­gre­ga­tion” (the congregation’s text is in ital­ics). Peri­od­i­cal­ly antiphonal read­ings also appear; the des­ig­nat­ed groups will be so labeled.
Alter­na­tive­ly, you can assign read­ers to Aha­suerus, Haman and Esther along with a leader and “Cho­rus” (the var­i­ous indi­vid­ual read­ers’ parts are indi­cat­ed).

You can down­load a copy for reprint­ing here.
And, for some addi­tion­al fun, Can­tor Joel Cole­man adapt­ed “Who’s on First” as: Who’s doing the She­ma? (… no, Who’s doing the can­dle light­ing!)

But, why did Chevra Shomrey Sabath produce a lapel button to mark its concert?

Bronx Purim Concert

Bronx Purim Con­cert

Date: 1930s
Size: 2.22
Pin Form: straight
Print Method: cel­lu­loid
Text ‚פורים קאנצערט ת״ת 335 ביקמאן עוו. נ,י
trans­la­tion: “Purim Con­cert T[almud] T[orah] 335 Beek­man Ave. N.Y.”

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear, or poked into a cork-board on your wall. If you have any lay­ing around that you do not feel emo­tion­al­ly attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see all the but­tons shared to date.

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