By Elie Benhiyoun
How often does a group of Chassidic boys consider a $45 million buyout for their company?
Answer: Not often.
The catch? The meeting to accept the buyout is to take place at a non-kosher restaurant.
What to do?
Though there may be Halachic leeway to allow participation at such a venue, after much deliberation, the boys determined it would be more appropriate, as observant Jews, to be seen at a kosher establishment. Notwithstanding the potential loss of the deal, they carefully crafted an email requesting a change in location.
This is how the third and fourth grade boys of Lamplighters Yeshivah enacted the Baal Shemtov’s interpretation of our Sages’ instruction: “One who reads the Megillah backwards has not fulfilled his obligation” (Talmud, Megillah 17a). The Baal Shem Tov beautifully explains this does not only refer to one who literally reads the Megillah backwards but also to one who does not seek relevance from the Megillah in one’s own life.
The Contemporary Megillah is the brain-child of Rabbi Zalmy Dubinsky, Lamplighters Elementary Boys’ rebbe. “We designed a Megillah that is creative and relevant to our students so they can embody the lessons of the Purim story,” he explained. “The boys acted out various moral issues and dilemmas of faith which paralleled the scenarios the Jews faced in ancient Persia. These scenes were photographed and then published in what became a personalized Megillah for each child.”
Imagine this: A student brings freshly baked donuts for all his classmates to enjoy. Another leaves the room to use the bathroom. The donuts were distributed while he was gone and was refused one upon returning to class. Unaware the two of them were acting, the class proudly stood up for their friend and classmate.
“It’s not fair,” they protested, “he shouldn’t be excluded just because he wasn’t in the room!”
“We all appreciated the opportunity to stand up for an injustice even when it was not personally affecting us,” says Rabbi Zalmy.
A parallel scene is narrated in the Megillah when Mordechai informs King Achashverosh about the assassination plot on his life, which then became the catalyst for saving the Jewish people from Haman’s evil plot.
They also learned from the bravery Queen Esther displayed by approaching King Achashverosh, initiating Haman’s downfall. Although it was at great peril to her own life, she knew this was the very reason Hashem placed her in the palace.
The lesson really hit home from the world of baseball, when Kirk Gibson, a star slugger on the Dodgers was injured in the 1988 playoffs. It was Game One of the World Series and his team was losing by one run with two outs in the ninth inning. Due to his injury he could barely walk. Nevertheless, he joined the team and hit a home run to win the game!
At times we find ourselves in a position to affect change and do something incredible, yet it may be challenging and uncomfortable. It is therefore imperative that we step up to the plate (in Gibson’s case, literally!) and face the challenge.
Interestingly the boys experienced just such a situation in school!
The snack menu had been changed and cereal, the class’s favorite, was no longer on it. However, It would be quite intimidating to address the issue with the administration. Yet, after learning about Esther’s bravery, they knew to affect change they had to speak up and take initiative. So a meeting was arranged at the office where they respectfully presented their case. Low and behold cereal was on the snack menu again the very next day!
These boys exemplify a core tenant of the Lamplighters model: The process of finding modern day relevance in the texts they study. This forges values of personal responsibility and expressing oneself honestly and articulately. In the same vein, the teachers and administration of the school apply these lessons in their interactions with the students as well.
Lastly the boys launched their very own “Charidy” crowdfunding campaign. After discussing how meaningful it is to give Tzedaka, it occurred to them, though they are still in school, they can significantly change people’s lives and the world around us.
A fund was created to which the students donated they’re our own class currency, which the school office would convert to US dollars at a 10:1 ratio. The money would then be matched by their very own teachers, tripling the amount raised!
It was so incredible to see how selfless the students were, donating they’re hard earned money to help others. One student emptied his entire wallet and gave away his every last dollar! A whooping $771 in class currency was raised. With their teachers’ matching funds, a grand total of $231.30 USD was raised for charity.
This brings to mind how Mordechai, hearing of Haman’s evil decree, immediately gathered the children, knowing they can have the biggest impact through their prayers and Torah study.
Mrs. Rivkah Schack, Head of School at Lamplighters Yeshivah reflected on this point. “I think we as educators underestimate our young students’ depth of understanding when it comes to applying Jewish text in their own lives. Jewish education requires pushing the thinking and reflection to raise the levels of complexity. The best part of this project was that our students were the ones driving this work.”
Noam Barnett, one of the students in Rabbi Zalmy’s class summed it up best, “It was different from past Megillas we made because it was more interactive and showed us how the Megillah is connected to us in our lives.”
Elie Benhiyoun serves in the Lead Development role at Lamplighters Yeshivah. He is also the founder of The Urban Jew community in Chicago and currently dwells in Brooklyn.