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After a year of extreme strain, we need Purim more than ever

Funny. Musical. Irreverent.

These aren’t words we typically associate with synagogue, but Purim isn’t your typical holiday.

Don’t call it “Jewish Halloween.” It’s not. Just because we wear costumes on both holidays doesn’t mean one has anything to do with the other.

For centuries, theater has been used as satire and political commentary. The Purim spiel — “spiel” being a Yiddish word meaning “play” or “skit” — a custom believed to date back to the 1500s, is part of that ancient tradition. The spiel gave people an opportunity to retell the story of Purim and celebrate good triumphing over evil. It also created openings to bend the rules of acceptable behavior, as merriment, indulgence and irreverence became central themes in the celebration and reenactment.

The past year has been a year filled with challenges: a global pandemic, racial injustice, rising antisemitism, political instability, the Capitol Hill insurrection — you get the idea. If there was ever a year when we needed to let loose and celebrate reason triumphing over hatred, this is it.

Choosing that joy isn’t a matter of indulgence. Poking fun at ourselves can help us regain some perspective on ourselves and the world around us. Humor and laughter give our minds and bodies a break from the many stresses of our modern life, and an opportunity to reconsider them.

This year, welcome Purim with open arms. Dig out your costume. Connect with your inner child. Grab your beverage, whether it be grape juice or wine, and enjoy. Sing, dance, laugh and leave the challenges of reality behind for a bit.

With that said, also remember this: God is not mentioned in the entire Book of Esther. God doesn’t swoop in and part seas or introduce plagues. Instead, human beings make choices and take action to right a wrong. (If Esther and Mordechai had waited on God to solve their predicament, I might not be writing this reflection right now.) Let’s enjoy the break from the realities of life, but when we wake up the day after Purim, let us recommit to working to better our world and correct the injustices around us.

And have some hamantashen.

Rebecca Rund is a graphic designer and communications freelancer, and Sisterhood President and Virtual Community Chair at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, N.J.

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