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Purim – How should we celebrate?

משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה
Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha
When [the month of] Adar arrives, we increase our joy

— Talmud (Ta’anit 29a)

This phrase comes from the Talmud and provides an energetic directive to the Jewish community at this time of year: as soon as it is Rosh Chodesh Adar, let the excitement and happiness build…because on 14 Adar, it’s Purim! To add to the joy and excitement, it is a leap year this year and when this happens (7 out of every 19 years), the Jewish calendar adds another month of Adar. So we increase our joy for 1.5 months, rather than the usual 14 days. 

By the time Erev Purim hits (this year on March 23 at sunset), we ought to be flying high and ready to rock and roll…

Right?…

Given that: 

  • Hamas, a terrorist organization, killed 1200 Israelis on October 7
  • 134 hostages are still being held captive in Gaza
  • thousands upon thousands of Gazans are dead, displaced, and malnourished
  • the war wages on between Israel and Hamas (today is day 159)
  • Israel may be on the precipice of war – or something like it – with Hezbollah on its norther border
  • Antisemitism is raging here in Canada and around the world

it almost feels incongruous to increase our joy. How can I celebrate at a time like this? What is the “correct” way to mark Purim this year? How should we fulfill the mitzvot of Purim? Should we cancel it altogether? Or should we celebrate in the same ways as we always have?

Perspective #1

A colleague of mine shared with her congregation that they would still be doing Purim this year but that the festivities would be a little more subdued. One of her congregants countered, “We need to grab every reason to celebrate right now. Especially this year.” The rest of the room nodded in agreement. Another colleague of mine has stated that now, more than ever, we need to resuscitate joy even – and in spite of – what is happening. A third colleague has written that we must not allow terrorists to take away our joyful times.

Perspective #2

Rabbis Rachel Timoner and Amichai Lau-Lavie recently penned a Forward article that offers several ideas for Purim changes this year, including silencing our groggers when one hears the name of Haman “given the number of people killed on Oct. 7 and every day since. Or we could wave Esther and Vashti flags instead of groggers. So long as it is not business as usual.” Other synagogues have cancelled all frivolities and carnivals and are only holding a straight megillah reading.

A few thoughts

Here are a few thoughts I’d like to offer: Perhaps we ought to focus on the word “increase” in the phrase

When [the month of] Adar arrives, we increase our joy

Maybe this does not mean that we should strive for extreme or rapturous joy, but rather that in the month of Adar we should try to cultivate small moments of joy, even allowing ourselves to stop and smell the real or metaphorical roses around us. Such an acknowledgment can happen even during challenging geopolitical and religious times. 

Another take

It need not be one OR the other. We can cultivate and name joy in our lives and the Jewish calendar even as we dwell in uncertainty, loss, grief, fear, anxiety, and frustration. We do this every Shabbat when the sun sets and we permit ourselves to set aside due dates, news, social media, or whatever else for 24 hours to be present for the gifts and delight of the Sabbath day.

[P.S. Israel is celebrating Purim in grand and smaller ways this year. Of note is the directive from the Israeli Education Ministry banning students “from coming to school on Purim in costumes that may cause alarm, fear, or emotional stress”]

We cannot close our eyes to the pain of the world, to the starvation of Gazans, to the hostage families’ grief, to the displacement of thousands of Gazans and Israelis, to increasing fears we might feel as Jews in Canada – and celebrate Purim as if it’s business as usual. But we also cannot go the other way, becoming so consumed with these emotions that Jewish life and living can find no place, no respite. 

What will you be doing to mark/celebrate/acknowledge Purim this year

Please let me know what you think about today’s offering: rabbiglickman@djctoronto.com. I look forward to the conversation.

This is our ongoing blog series to introduce the DJC community to podcasts, books, websites, and other media offerings that may expand our understandings of the current war in particular and Israel/Palestine more broadly. I hope you listen/watch/read these recommendations with curiosity, openness, and empathy.

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