The month of Adar is a time when we are supposed to feel infused with joy. Since Purim falls in Adar and the customs surrounding this holiday involve “l’chaims,” feasting, partying, dressing up, and engorging on pastries - it’s hard not to be happy! As the Ed Director, I’m also smiling because nothing gives me more joy than watching our kiddos experience Judaism through a portal that exudes delight. It’s fairly hard not to hit the mark on Purim, and holy cow: did Shir Shalom hit a home-run last Friday night: Frozen Chosen, homemade hamantaschen, pizza galore, carnival games, costumes, wine-in-a-box, and Tom Beck with antlers! Woodstock was where the party was at!!
For me, another element of Purim that fills my heart with happiness is listening to the Megillah. In Detroit, it is customary for children to commit to reading a section of the Megillah once they become bar/bat mitzvah. Since both of my kids became bar/bat mitzvah in March, they had a WEEK after the “big day” to go up on the bima and read. I remember thinking it was too much to simultaneously learn Torah and Megillah, but I remember our Cantor saying: “Leah, is there ever too much Torah? Too many mitzvot? What better way to enter the congregation as a Jewish adult than to come back a week later and help others fulfill a mitzvah?” He was referring to the mitzvah of hearing the Megillah read on Purim (where the phrase “the whole megillah” originates).
In Detroit, it was also the tradition to “mess around” with the Megillah readers. The Rabbi, Cantor, and Gabbai would move the scroll sideways and upside down, precariously balance silly hats on the head of the readers, or toss boas and scarves across their shoulders while they chanted. I remember feeling extremely stressed out because clown-sized glasses were placed over my kids’ prescription glasses, and I was unsure if they were going to be able to actually read the words on the parchment. Alas, they learned the portion well enough to chant it with silly glasses, hats, scarves, and upside down scrolls. More importantly, they equated reading Megillah with fun!
By the time they were in high school, they “took the show on the road,” as Megillah readers were called in to pitch-hit and read at the day schools, synagogues, JCCs, senior centers, and in-home minyanim. Kids would drive across Metro-Detroit and stop at a few different congregations to chant before making it to their day school, where they would then read again during services. Nothing brought me more joy than seeing my kids and their friends bring this gift to the community. And it was not just Megillah, they expanded their repertoire by learning Torah portions for the Chagim and special Shabbats. And while it always required practice and review, once they learned a new portion, muscle memory took over; it was something that they owned. As a mom, it was what filled me with pride. What made Judaism come alive for me most was witnessing my children chant Torah - connecting the congregation to our ancestors all the way back to Sinai.
This year, once again, I had the pleasure of watching Sophia read Megillah on Purim. And while I was beaming from ear to ear with joy, nothing brought me as much pleasure as hearing her speak to the congregation; she shared that she had learned Megillah as a teenager. She wanted the kids to know that they could and should learn it too, as it was truly a gift. When the night wrapped up, several folks came up to us and complemented Sophia. They incorrectly assumed that she did not grow up in a Reform congregation.
Sophia absolutely grew up in a Reform congregation. From the ages of 0-12 she belonged to a small Reform synagogue in Troy, Michigan that was almost identical to Shir Shalom in its hamishy environment and religious make-up. And while we ultimately moved to a Conservative congregation, she learned how to read Hebrew, how to Daven, how to live Jewishly at a shul just like Shir Shalom. I’d love to say that she learned this in their award winning Hebrew School, of which I helped build, but the truth of the matter is that both of my kids learned because we regularly attended services.
Full disclosure: they were NOT spectacularly behaved. They had “mom’s claw” grab their distracted shoulders more times than I can count and stern reprimands for flicking their shoes off in the aisles or playing cat’s cradle with Randy’s tallis strings. They hid in the women’s bathroom, locked themselves into closets in the classrooms, snuck oneg treats 2 hours too early. In fact, Sam had a special talent for finding certain naughty words within words in the Torah (re: Assyria) and giggling so loudly that our Rabbi would casually glance our way with that classic bemused-meets-annoyed smile. But, despite their best of efforts to do the opposite - as if by osmosis, they learned Hebrew. And somewhere down the line they realized that with this knowledge they could do something. And then, they recognized that this was pretty special.
And it is. And so, taking a cue from my own daughter, who offered up her help (minus her tone deafness) to help read Megillah, I want to extend this invitation. Next year, let’s pack the bima with Megillah readers. Let’s READ THE WHOLE MEGILLAH. In fact, let’s not wait a year. If you want to read Torah (a line, a few lines, a passage), we are here to help. Rabbi, Art, our incredible teachers, myself - we are here to help you achieve this goal. It is never too early or too late to learn.
May we follow in the sage wisdom of the rabbis and lean into joy this Adar. May the anticipation of amplifying next year’s Purim celebration by filling the bima with Megillah readers permeate our hearts with enough joy to propel us through what is sure to be a long Vermont mud season. May the echo of Purim laughter and memories of hilarious reindeer Mordechais carry us all.