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E-Newsletter, Chag Purim!
March 19, 2016

Chag Purim!

With Purim coming up, we have some serious – and silly – thoughts to share that will enrich the day. Passover is just a month away, and we are offering free downloadable materials that will enhance your Seders – and literally save people from bondage.

In This Issue:

The One and Wonder of Purim - A message from Rabbi Debra.

New Purim Materials -Songs and Laughter for the Season.

Craig’s Corner - Notes from the rebbetzin.

Passover Resources - Including new and updated material for classes and seders.

Passover Gifts - Order your Afikoman and host(less) gifts now.

Calendar - New dates and appearances.

A Family Plug - Aviva Orenstein's new novel.

Thank You - With gratitude to our subscribers.

The One and Wonder of Purim
A Message from Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Just this week, I was teaching about Purim to sixth graders in my congregation’s Hebrew School. Based on the Talmud Megillah 7b, we were discussing what it might mean NOT to know the difference between “blessed be Mordecai” and “cursed be Haman.” First, we calculated the gematria (numerology) of the two Hebrew phrases: 502 in each case. Explicitly (in the simple meaning of the words) and implicitly (in their valuation), the ancient Rabbis are telling us that Mordecai and Haman can be seen as equivalent – or even one and the same.

When I challenged the students to think about why and how this might be, one young man made a connection to a concept that he had been learning in middle school math class: absolute value. He reported, “In relation to their distance from zero, both -49 and +49 have the same value.” And then he made this amazing observation, “So Haman and Mordecai are opposites in one way, but in another way they are relating to God with just same intensity - only coming from different starting points. They are proportional. That’s why if you cheer for Mordecai, you should boo, equally loudly, for Haman.”

Most of the time, we aspire to morality and holiness by making distinctions: good vs. evil, truth vs. falsehood, pure vs. impure. Life isn’t so simple, and the borders are sometimes blurry – or just complicated; but we seek to discern and distinguish. Sometimes, particularly during times of ecstasy or altered consciousness, we can see past all the distinctions. We are not indifferent to them; we just sense their common source – the “echad” (One-ness) behind every expression and manifestation there is.

Once, when speaking of Haman, Rabbi Zalman Schacther-Shalomi smiled his beatific smile and said, with wonder in his voice, “Haman played his part so well.” Yes, he was evil. But he was also, like Mordecai, like all of us, part of a single and singular whole (echad, yachid, umeyuchad), greater than himself.

The Megillah doesn’t directly mention God. And yet many readers sense God suffusing every coincidence, every reversal, and even every character.

New Purim Materials - Songs and Laughter for the Season.

Download these three handouts to enliven and enrich your holiday.

Joy and Jokes for Purim
Traditional Purim Songs in transliteration
Purim Song Parodies

Last year Debra appeared on the WABC Radio program "Religion On The Line" just before Purim. Listen again to her commentary on the holiday. Click Here

Craig's Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

Purim is a pageant. – the kids’ Jewish Halloween. For adults there’s a “Happy New Year” feeling, a celebration of victory over oppression. It’s a time of Jewish unity. Because of the celebratory mood, Jews of all stripes find it easier to embrace each other rather than notice differences in observance. There’s a great sense of community and friendship as we exchange baskets of goodies – those sweet hamentachen, belittling and parodying the evil and the threat that Haman’s three-cornered hat represented for the Jews of ancient Persia.

My kids like Chanukah, for the gifts and the lamp-lighting. My wife is powerfully absorbed in the High Holidays every year. Purim is one of my favorite moments on the Jewish calendar, and it’s not just the admonition to get drunk. It’s the recognition that amidst the chaos and the complex moral relativism we must negotiate every day, often eschewing bad options simply for less bad ones, there is a path of truth that, when followed, has great potency.

Some years ago, we decided to start our son Emmett in nursery school in the middle of the school year, and the local JCC nursery school did not have a place available at the time. So we enrolled Emmett in a nearby Chabad nursery school. Despite my concerns over the different religious culture, the school could not have been more open and inviting. Emmett hit it off with his teacher & the other kids. It had been a great choice.

One morning, after dropping Emmett off in his classroom, I stopped at the principal’s office to introduce myself and express how pleased we were with the school. I knew they relied on parent involvement for many activities, and so I offered, “If there is anything at all that I can do to help out, I would be happy to. Please ask.” Without missing a beat, the principal looked me in the eye and said that they needed a school dad to play Esther in the upcoming Purim Play – and would I be interested?

It quickly dawned on me that Chabad would not have women on stage performing. And, just on Purim, it would be permitted for a man to dress in women’s clothing. The words “anything at all that I can do to help out” were still fresh on my lips. I saw no legitimate way of evading this polite request. “Of course,” I said quickly. “I’d be happy to. Sounds like fun.”

Now, I wasn’t particularly excited to stand up in drag in front of the entire school community, parents I was just starting to befriend and school administrators I wanted to impress. There was a downside here. Yet, the decision was quick and easy to make. It was the right thing to do.

As we say, and I’m paraphrasing: Listen up, Yisroel, (you who wrestle with God), there is one Truth, and you know it. Stop fooling yourself; stop denying who you are, and do the right thing! Now, this decision to play Esther was not one of grave consequence or large stakes, but the sense of moral purpose I had when being put on the spot in the moment of the request was palpable and has resonated. I could have begged off for any number of reasons, but it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.

I like Purim because, within a world of corruption, gluttony, envy, anger, vanity, and pride (sound familiar?), the story shows us the righteous strength in making difficult moral choices. Sometimes we have moments of clarity where the right path is easy to see. Other times in a complicated world the right path is murky. An appreciation of Purim helps us to cultivate this state of clarity. This year at Purim, celebrate and be joyous at the victory of the Jewish people – and know that the source of this joy springs fully from our people staying true to their identity, as Yisroel, wrestlers, fighting for what is right and true.

(Craig as Esther, our son Emmett, then 2 1/2, as a courtier, and another dad as Mordecai)

Passover Resources - Including new and updated material for classes, seders, and social action.

If it is Purim, that means Passover is just a month away. Many Jews will be cleaning, cooking, traveling, hosting, and visiting. Over 90% of Jews will celebrate a Seder of some kind. Many will be preparing with classes on the holiday or Haggadah. This year, make the seder even more meaningful by helping to free people who are enslaved today.

For your Day School or Hebrew School: Download and use Next Year, Free! – a powerful, updated curriculum on connecting the story and values of Passover to the plight –and mitzvah of helping – slaves today.

For your Seders (Model, Community, & Family): Seder Starters curates material created by a variety of Jewish organizations, movements, and teachers to bring you the best seder supplements, readings, activities, and discussion starters that relate the Haggadah to the stories – and redemption of – slaves today.

For your Social Action Committee or your entire congregation: Download and distribute Passover Prep – a one-page document outlining easy steps you can take to make Passover more meaningful, as you help slaves.

For Adult Education: Next Year, Free! includes texts, discussion questions, and lesson plans for teaching college students and adults.

For your Youth Groups: Next Year, Free! includes informal educational program ideas.

For your sermons: Devote one of your Passover sermons to the subject of modern day slavery and the mitzvot of “loving the stranger” and “redeeming captives.” Find wonderful teaching texts and approaches in Next Year, Free! and Seder Starters.

For your Board: Become a Passover Project Partner synagogue or school. Simply use some or all of the resources above and raise funds to help free slaves this Passover. You can sign up with a click of a button.

and donate there, as well!

Passover Gifts - Order your Afikoman and host(ess) gifts now!

Our Gratitude CD makes a wonderful host(ess) or Afikoman gift for Passover seders. Click here to order.

You can also order compelling gift books about modern-day slavery (proceeds to benefit slaves!) at:
Rabbi Debra's favorite is: Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves by Kevin Bales.

Click on the CD's above to order from our store.

Calendar - New dates and appearances.

October 21-22, 2016 - Marlboro, NJ - Scholar-in-Residence weekend with Rabbi Debra at Marlboro Jewish Center. For more information, please contact (732)536-2300.

March 9-11, 2018 - Chapel Hill, NC - Scholar-in-Residence weekend with Rabbi Debra at Kehillah Synagogue. For more information, please contact

If you would like to book Rabbi Debra for a speaking engagement (whether for one talk or a longer commitment), please contact us.

A Family Plug - Aviva Orenstein's new novel.

My sister, Aviva Orenstein, is coming out with two books in close succession: a second edition of her legal studies book Acing Evidence and her first novel, Fat Chance. The former is directed to law students; the latter will be of interest to a much wider audience. A short summary is below. Please visit Amazon to make a purchase or write a review. Fair warning: it includes both Jewish and sexual content. – Rabbi Debra

Fat Chance
, is told from the vantage point of Claire, a forty-year-old, overweight single mother who is successful in her career but floundering in her personal life.

Claire’s father’s death precipitates a series of events leading her to an unsettling romance with a warm, mysterious man at her gym. As she struggles with her angry teenaged son, an ex-husband who has recently remarried, a friend who suffers a miscarriage, and an employee experiencing domestic violence, Claire grows in strength and insight. Her work in human resources and her ambiguous but intense relationship with the man at the gym help her deal with previously unacknowledged losses. The identity of the stranger with whom she has a brief and doomed affair adds both intrigue and depth to the story.

Thank You - With gratitude to our subscribers.

Please be in touch via e-mail with any comments or questions about the newsletter, the teaching CD's, or any resources on the website.

We always appreciate your reviews on iTunes, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble. Thank you for all your interest and support.

Have a Happy Purim!

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