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An Interactive, Kabbalistic and Ecological Purim

The costumes line the streets and Purim is in the air. It’s really one of my favorite holidays, made more so by the preparations for our community’s traditional English-speakers Tzfat Purim shpiel. I excitedly anticipate the unique mishloach manot (gift packages) that my Sepharadi neighbors send – their homemade Moroccan Purim challahs, Djerbian orange-flavored donuts, Tunisian muffletot and Iraqi Sambusks are a highlight of the holiday. I make my own strawberry jam, since spring is strawberry-time in Israel (wash and crush 2 kilos of strawberries, add a tiny bit of sugar and let it simmer for several hours on the stove till it turns into a jam) so that I can present my neighbors with strawberry hamantashen.

For the last few years I’ve been teaching about Israel and Judaism online to Bar and Bat Mitzvah students in America. These classes include a variety of frameworks: JconnecT students who are either homeschooled or live in areas in which they don’t have access to a local Hebrew School and JETS students who meet at their local afternoon school where they participate in the online classes with their peers. The lessons involve different aspects of Judaism and contemporary Jewish issues. I try, whenever possible, to create content that incorporates current events or upcoming holidays in a way that will be meaningful to the students’ own lives.

Throughout the year the kids, knowing that I live in Tzfat, had been asking me to explain kabbalah so as Purim approached I decided to present a lesson that would explore Purim in the light of Kabbalah, challenge them to dig into some of the hidden meanings of Purim and connect the holiday to “Tikkun Olam.”

Tikkun Olam refers to the kabbalistic concept of “Repairing the World” or, more specifically, repairing broken sparks to create a better world. Our lesson focused specifically on Esther. Who was Esther? Why is she remembered as a great woman in Jewish history? Why was she given the job of saving the Jewish people? Why is she seen as a leader, someone to emulate in our efforts to create a better world?

Esther was a simple girl who found herself thrust into a bewildering situation. She wasn’t obligated to accept the challenge but she did so because she was prepared to go beyond herself for the greater good.

Our class made use of a variety of collaborative tools and PPT presentations to develop the students’ understandings of the reason that Esther’s place in history continued to evolve. Esther wasn’t great because she acted nobly. The significance of her actions lay in her willingness to step out of her comfort zone and stand up for her beliefs.

I focused on Purim as a holiday that celebrates hidden miracles and guided it toward our goal of Tikkun Olam and the environment. We discussed some of the different aspects of the climatic changes that we’re seeing. These changes seem scary on the surface, but, in fact, might be hidden miracles….we don’t know why God is making these things happen. Perhaps His plan includes helping certain species to evolve? Or maybe it’s His wake-up call to us to become more involved, more cognizant and more pro-active in safe-guarding His creation.

Judaism teaches us that we are the guardians of our planet. God didn’t choose man to protect nature because He was lacking alternatives – man is the only creature who has the ability to curb his personal nature for the sake of a greater good. Every time that we push ourselves to reduce our energy bills, recycle and compost, clean up someone else’s trash, use public transportation instead of driving our own car, plant trees or take any other steps that reduce our carbon footprint, we are following Esther’s lead. That was the message that I wanted the students to take with them.

We created a shared linoboard – a collaborative bulletin board – in which I asked the students to collaborate and share their ideas for little things that they could do to “be an Esther.” The students surprised me with their ideas, especially those who mentioned that they were often the only one in their home who moderated the air conditioning/heating temperature, maintained a compost heap or went out of their way to protect a stray animal.

At the end of the activity we examined the mystical relationship between Purim and “Hidden Miracles. God’s name is never mentioned in the Megilla and commentators have debated for thousands of years as to the meaning of that omission. I wanted the kids to continue to explore the idea that God expects us to do our share before He steps in. This seems to be a particularly important lesson as we consider our responsibilities to our environment.

Laurie Rappeport lives in Tzfat, Israel. She is an online educator and is creating Judaic online homeschooling curriculum for North American homeschooling Jewish students.

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