Purim, a Holiday that Augments the Community Spirit
By Aliza Gershon
Purim offers us what seems to be an endless range of depths to delve into: masks and concealing; the joy; the natural course of the rescue miracle; a glance at the women status issue – from Vashti to Esther as the game changers in their society, and more.
But let us consider the less “flamboyant” Mitzvahs of Purim: the ones that do not glitter, put on a daring blush or get intoxicated with alcohol.
Mishloach Manot (literally: (“the sending of portions”) and giving of Gifts to the Poor are two central Purim mitzvahs. While both share the idea of giving, the beneficiaries of the giving are differ. The “Manot” are given to our friends, whereas the “Gifts” are given to the poor. No Purim celebration is complete unless you have fulfilled these two Mitzvahs.
Given that charity is a pivotal value of Judaism and one which is manifested in many ways, the giving of gifts to the needy is a pretty straight forward concept. “Charity saves you from death,” as the saying goes. But why send delicacies to our friends? What good will my neighbor derive from the cake that I have baked?
When Queen Esther approached King Achashverosh , she knew she was not facing him alone. Behind her were hundreds of thousands of the Jews from the city and the kingdom. Esther was a representative and an emissary. She represented the Jews in her petition to acknowledge their right for “community freedom,” namely to practice their life style and unique culture even amidst a different environment.
Esther, a foreigner in the royal palace, remains true to herself, her heritage and her people. She never relinquished her uniqueness and roots. At the same time, she established herself place in the Palace as the a lovable queen. When the time of trial arrives, an entire people stands behind her, fasting for three days towards her fatal confrontation with the King. An entire community rallies to support the mission of one young woman who risks her life to protect her community.
Even more than the joy of overcoming the hateful enemy, Purim is the holiday of community spirit, which with its unique custom of Mishloach Manot forces us to go out, visit our neighbors and relatives and think about the other: what would they fancy? what would make them happy? We are required to exert an effort in order to please delight the other. After all, preserving friendly relationship in the community is the foundation for rallying together in times of need.
At Tzav Pius we strongly believe in the power of the community. The community we envision is one of many colors, culturally rich, one in which each Israeli brings his roots and her family history while at the same time playing a role in the large, shared endeavor of empowering and solidifying the cohesion of Israeli society.
By creating communities for secular, religious and traditional pupils around schools we open a window for dialogue and for deepening the connections between Israelis, whoever they may be. We do not shake off our heritage; quite the contrary: we regard the multiplicity of voices and colors as a strength. In our schools, children see women with hair cover as well as fathers who do not wear a kippah. In the hallways, they hear the liturgical odes, the piutim as well as new Israeli music and Shabbat songs. They learn about their roots from the Torah and the collection of Jewish books, but study the new interpretations of these books as well. They become deeply acquainted with concepts such as Kabalat Shabbat, sidur, and the weekly portion without being required to modify their lifestyle or practice religious rituals. They share the same football field, visit other pupils in their homes and go on a summer camp together in a green natural reserve without renouncing their personality. We ensure their value system is reinforced while learning to respect the value systems of their friends.
The communities that form around the integrated schools are closely knit with a strong sense of common fate and collaborating in the mission of raising children on the values of Judaism, Zionism and democracy and being educated to love the other, and to be committed to the Jewish people and to solidarity among its constituents.
The story that unfolds in the Book of Esther has yet another lesson to teach is: while everything seems to happen by chance – the decision was made, Mordechai happened to overhear a conversation between Bigtan and Teresh and Esther was fortunate to be selected of all the young women – the Jewish people did not sit idle waiting for the miracle to happen: it gathered, fasted, prayed and declared a state of emergency in all fronts. It was only when the entire people had united to fight back that the defeat of Haman and his sons took place.
We can take the fate in our hands. Israeli society must not let things happen by mere chance. The Zionism enterprise is the result of individuals joining forces. In the same way, the joint schools of Tzav Pius draw the hearts closer together. The sectors of society will not become closer unless we work to achieve this together for the future of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
Aliza Gershon is CEO of Tzav Pius.