THE EVOLUTION OF, what and when a Jew learns is quite interesting. Shabbat is known as a “challah-day” to our preschoolers. For our youth, Chanukah is a day of miracles, celebrating the little cruise of oil which lasted eight days, which in some households coincides with the number of gifts. And Purim is a day when you can dress up in costume, make lots of noise when the bad guy Haman’s name is called out and you get to eat triangular baked cookies, which either represent his hat or his ear…depending on your belief system.
If one’s Jewish education ends after preschool or after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the association with these holidays and the potential of a deeper adult understanding may never be fully tapped.
Shabbat is considered to be one of the major gifts to humanity. The concept of a day of rest, “a palace in time and space,” a time to pause and reflect on life, to celebrate with loved ones through communal meals, gatherings and special family time. It’s more than a twisted loaf of bread as its ingredients rise way beyond its leavening.
Chanukah, after you strip down the westernization, provides us with a glimpse of an internal, and possibly eternal, Jewish civil war that has continued for over two thousand years: secularization verses strict ritual observance and life style. Beyond the internal battle, there is the fight for religious freedom in the middle east of that time….again possibly eternal.
And Purim… The adult themes dominate this seemingly children’s fairy tale. It is a tale full of violence, eroticism, deceit, political corruption, women’s liberation, hidden identities….and antisemitism. It is a day that some say one should become so inebriated that they can’t tell the difference between the good guy, Mordecai, and the bad guy Haman. Personally, it’s a day I prefer to remain sober. I would prefer to internalize the concepts with a level head.
Purim is celebrated in our Orange County community by way of synagogue readings of the Scroll of Esther, children’s fairs and carnivals, the giving of gift baskets to our friends and contributions to those in need. Judaism allows one to live a life of values within the framework of our celebrations.
Mark Lazar is the Director of Education of the Merage JCC’s Center for Jewish Life.