An Unusual Megillah

By Marissa Brostoff

Published March 12, 2008, issue of March 21, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Scroll of Esther is getting a makeover from some kids in Pennsylvania, a Reconstructionist scribe and a computer graphics program.

Biblical Scenes: A drawing by Jessica Berson shows Haman leading Mordechai through the streets (top left), and a work by Ashley Fisher-Tannenbaum depicts Esther going to the King.
Biblical Scenes: A drawing by Jessica Berson shows Haman leading Mordechai through the streets (top left), and a work by Ashley Fisher-Tannenbaum depicts Esther going to the King.
Scribe: Rabbi Kevin Hale was commissioned to create the megillah.
Scribe: Rabbi Kevin Hale was commissioned to create the megillah.

Congregation Or Hadash, a small Reconstructionist synagogue located in the Philadelphia suburb Fort Washington, has commissioned a sofer to create a megillah that incorporates drawings by students in its religious school. The scribe, Rabbi Kevin Hale, used a computer program to graft the children’s images onto fine rice paper that was then affixed to parchment.

“We are creating the first truly Reconstructionist megillah,” said Rabbi Joshua Waxman, who leads Or Hadash. (To boot, Hale is the first ordained Reconstructionist sofer.) “It’s a kosher scroll, and we use the traditional text, but we engage with it and try to inject our own voices into it and experience it as something fresh.”

The megillah project was conceived partly as a celebration of the congregation’s 25th birthday. But Waxman was adamant that it would not be an ordinary present.

“It’s easy to commission something,” Waxman said. “It would have been easy to make a few phone calls to our more generous donors, but instead we invited everyone to help underwrite it for $1.80 a letter. I find it faintly distasteful when synagogues virtually auction off ritual items — you know, ‘You, too, can own the Song of the Sea for $15,000.’”

To Waxman and some of his congregants, it also seemed too easy to let a sofer do all the work. So, religious-school students were encouraged to submit illustrations of scenes from the Purim story, including “Vashti saying ‘no,’” “Mordechai at the gate refusing to bow down,” and “Haman being led to the stake.”

The result, a range of 20 colorful drawings by artists between the ages of 5 and 14 was compiled by Hale and grafted onto parchment next to the appropriate portions of text.

“It’s really an illuminated manuscript,” Hale said.

Further enlivening the text, Hale inscribed the names of key characters of the story in different colors. Haman’s name — which, Waxman pointed out, is often set aside in traditional megillot to give cantors a chance to work up the contempt with which they must utter it — is in red; Esther’s is in green, and Mordechai’s is in blue.

Despite the unusual features of this megillah, those involved with its production say that it’s kosher.

“The rules for writing a kosher scroll are more flexible in this case, because nowhere in the megillah is the name of God mentioned,” said Gail Morrison-Hall, an art teacher and Or Hadash member who coordinated the scroll-making project.

The scroll was set to be unveiled at a celebration at the synagogue March 16, four days before Purim. Hale, who lives in Leeds, Mass., was slated to be on hand to teach a crash course in scroll-writing for the congregation’s kids.

“Who knows, maybe it will inspire a future scribe,” Waxman said.

Marissa Brostoff is the Forward’s editorial assistant.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.