Purim Pursuits: More than the Minimum

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How do you spend Purim day? Listening to the Megilla? Preparing and delivering mishloach manos? Writing checks and distributing cash? Davening and reciting tehilim? Or cooking and eating the seuda? The answer for most of us is “all of the above.” Yet, Purim is a multifaceted holiday that lends itself to one-of-a-kind and creative ways to celebrate. And some individuals in our community have “specialized” in one of Purim’s beautiful mitzvos and embraced it to the fullest.

Megilla Reading

“Did you know that the city of Baltimore has more scheduled Megilla readings throughout the day than the city of Lakewood!” says Rabbi Moshe Juravel, the founder of the Megilla Connection, proudly. He explains that it is necessary in Baltimore to have laining at all times of the day in order to accommodate people’s schedules. “For example, a person who works in Washington may not be able to get to a Megilla reading at 11 a.m., so we have readings later in the day.”

For many years Rabbi Juravel has made it his tradition to lain (read) for the people of Baltimore wherever they are and whomever they are. “The maximum number of times I have lained on Purim, night and day, is 18,” he says, “but usually I lain 15 times or more.” Besides laining many times himself, Rabbi Juravel also arranges for other people to lain and makes “shidduchim” between people who want to hear the Megilla and those who want to lain for them.

A longtime fifth-grade rebbi at Torah Institute, Rabbi Juravel is a veteran baal koreh. “Laining is in my blood,” he says. “It is a family thing; my father and my grandfather lained.” Reading the Megilla has become what he does on Purim. “My wife has a big portion of this mitzva, because she takes care of all of the other mitzvos of Purim for our family. She also answers the phone and makes connections between lainers and listeners throughout the day. “We try to arrange as many readings as we can before Purim starts,” says Rabbi Juravel, but there are always calls with various last minute requests throughout Purim night and day.” The phone is always on, and calls are taken whenever they come in, even if it is very late at night or almost the end of Purim day. Often he is laining the Megilla until the very last minute,” says Rabbi Juravel. “But I try to wash before sunset to eat the seuda.

Rabbi Juravel’s goal is to arrange a Megilla reading for everyone who asks, even if it is a child in the hospital, a senior with dementia, or a family just back from a levaya. Once a whole family had chicken pox and couldn’t leave the house. Rabbi Juravel, who had already had chicken pox, went to lain for them in their home. “It was like a pajama party,” he says. Another time he read the Megilla for an elderly man who seemed to be completely unaware of what was going on. “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” says Rabbi Juravel, “but when I got to perek gimmel, where Haman’s name is mentioned, he started to tap with his finger on the chair.” Another man, who was almost 100 years old, perked up and joined in when he heard the Megilla sung according to the old German custom. A little girl, a patient on the oncology ward, dressed up as Queen Esther and insisted that Rabbi Juravel wear a surgical mask when he read the Megilla for her and her mother. “Of course, I couldn’t refuse the commands of a queen,” Rabbi Juravel quips.

One of the ways Rabbi Juravel gets people to lain is to encourage his former TI students to lain when they are in eighth grade, when they are already bar mitzva. He explains that if they prepared the parsha and the haftorah for their bar mitzva, it would not be hard for them to learn to lain the Megilla. And once you can lain the Megilla, it is a skill you have for your whole life. Some say that when Mashiach comes, the only holiday we will celebrate will be Purim, so laining the Megilla is a mitzva that will always be available. He gives boys who want to prepare a free recording of the Megilla to help them. Every year he has eighth-grade volunteers!

“We need all the help we can get,” concludes Rabbi Juravel. If you are able to lain or drive someone who can lain. Or if you own a Megilla that is available for use on Purim, please call the Megilla Connection, at 410-358-9215

Mishloach Manos

Lorna Durso, Varda Birnbaum, and Marlene Daniel started a special project at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion 16 years ago, inspired by a lecture given by Rabbi Hauer regarding the community’s response to the intifada at that time. Since 2001, approximately 15,000 letters and gifts have been sent to Israeli soldiers. Beginning about two months before Purim, they start raising money. After collecting a few thousand dollars in Baltimore, Mrs. Durso sends the money to Israel, where volunteers buy the food products, package the mishloach manos, and distribute them to the soldiers. Each Purim gift includes a sefer Tehilim, a personal note, and Purim treats, such as hamantaschen, chocolates, snacks, and grape juice. “Although the project is based in Shaarei Zion,” Mrs. Durso, says, “it is really a community project, and over the years various schools and shuls have also participated. This year Elaine Lowenstein from Shomrei Emunah is helping to coordinate this project.”

The women have received many thank you letters from the soldiers. One soldier wrote, “Thank you very much for your beautiful mishloach manot and letter. I want you to know that the most important thing that I got from you is actually the support from you as individual Jews and as klal and am Yisrael. I want you to know that we in Israel very much appreciate your confidence in us as soldiers and in the people of Israel.”

Lorna adds, “We continue to receive requests from Israel for letters and gifts so that more of our soldiers can be reached. Donations are being accepted until Purim. The money is sent directly to Israel so that the purchases can benefit the Israeli economy.” Checks may be made payable to Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion. Memo: Soldier fund. It is not too late to participate in this mitzva.

A Day of Tzedaka

Purim is a day when we are encouraged to give charity to everyone who asks. In all Jewish communities, people take advantage of this attitude and use the day to raise money for various causes. Some men have raised thousands of dollars to give to needy families, spending the entire day collecting money, starting a few weeks before Purim begins.

Reuven Miller, has been raising money for about 50 years. He has many regulars who give him money every year. “We have found all kinds of creative ways to give money to people so that they won’t be embarrassed,” he says. “Sometimes we go in the middle of the night and put money through their mail slot. Other times, we arrange to pay off people’s overdue balance at the grocery store or the electric company.” This year Mr. Miller is not going to be going from door to door as he usually does, but anyone who would like to contribute money to his tzedaka collection can drop off a check at his home.

Stan Hochman has also been collecting money on Purim for many years. “I don’t drink, so I needed to find something else to do with my time,” he says. He raises thousands of dollars for Ezras Torah every year. “I attend a lot of Minchas on Purim,” says Mr. Hochman,” because I spend a lot of time in shul getting contributions.”

It has become traditional for many yeshivos to send their bachurim to raise money on Purim. For example, TA sends students to raise money for Lev L’Achim, a kiruv organization in Israel. Dovid* an eleventh grader in TA explains, “It is a lot of fun. We get a list of homes that are in walking distance to each other, and we go around in the evenings the week before Purim. We go into the homes and dance, and then the people give us a donation. Last year our group was able to raise $2,000!”

Time for Tefila

Purim is a busy, happy day, when families spend the day opening the door to visitors or driving around town delivering mishloach manos and giving tzedaka. Where does one find the time for extra davening? Rabbi Weiss’s shul, Ohr Hachaim, has set up a program beginning very early in the morning, so that people can daven before starting their hectic activities. “For the last seven years we read the whole book of Tehilim together, beginning two-and-a-half hours before the early Shacharis minyan,” says Rabbi Weiss. “After Shacharis and the Megilla reading, we serve breakfast and then we have Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzadik for fathers and sons and Kollel Mordechai Hatzadik for grownups. There is an interpretation that says that the words usually applied to giving tzedaka can also be applied to prayer. It says, ‘To everyone who stretches out their hand you should give.’ This can be interpreted to mean that Hashem will answer anyone who stretches out their hands, through tefila,” says Rabbi Weiss. Our shul wants to give people the opportunity to daven and learn before the day gets busy.

The Seuda

Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen of Chabad of Owings Mills has a special Purim seuda each year called “Purim Around the World.” Each year features a different theme, and the whole seuda centers on that theme. They have had Purim in Mexico, Purim in Israel, and Purim in the shtetl. The year they did Purim in the shtetl, bales of hay scattered around the room and laundry drying on lines added to the atmosphere. The food, arts and crafts, entertainment and costumes are all geared to that theme. This year’s theme will be Purim in Paris, with French cuisine, including French pastries. They are bringing in a chasidic comedian for the enjoyment of the adults. Over 150 guests are expected.

“Many people come to shul only on Yom Kippur so they associate Yiddishkeit with fasting, long davening, and a serious atmosphere,” says Rabbi Katsenelenbogen. “We want to change that perception, so we encourage everyone to attend our Purim dinner to prove that Yiddishkeit is joyous, meaningful, and fun for the entire family. Obviously, we infuse the Purim dinner with divrei Torah, songs, and dancing.”

Rabbi and Mrs. Levi Druk, of the Chabad of Downtown, stage a Purim seuda in a law firm downtown. The goal is to help people fulfill all the mitzvos of the day in a short period of time. “We have the seuda at lunch time in a conference room. We read the Megilla, provide a meal, bring mishloach manos, so people can exchange with each other, and collect matanos la’evyonim. We make it easy for people who have to work on Purim to be able to do everything at a time convenient for them,” says Mrs. Druk.

Each person is unique and Purim is a great opportunity to choose a mitzva and make it your own. How will you spend your Purim? Will you choose to focus on Megilla, mishloach manos, matanas la’evyonim, tefila, or the seuda? The Where What When would love to receive pictures of your Purim to share with the community in our next issue. Please send hi-resolution pictures that tell a story to adsw

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