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Rogue Rabbi to host alternative Purim experience in a Synagogue

Rabbi Aaron Potek, GatherDC’s infamous rabbi and provocateur, is pushing the envelope yet again.

Rabbi Aaron Potek

Potek announced earlier this week that he will be hosting an alternative Purim experience this Wednesday night…in a synagogue.

It’s a risky move for someone who works with Jewish 20s and 30s, many of whom don’t connect to synagogues. But Potek thinks the idea just might be crazy enough to work.

“We were originally looking to host this in an abandoned warehouse or something hipster like that,” he said. “But then we realized that synagogues were just as abandoned and even more unexpected. I mean, honestly, where’s the last place you’d want to celebrate Purim?”

Some Jewish leaders are calling this the most innovative program to happen in DC in years. “You look at the landscape here – Hannukah Happy Hours, Shabbat Happy Hours, Happy Hours for Immigrants’ Rights, or even just generic monthly Happy Hours… it’s literally all Happy Hours,” said Mordy Goldstone, head of OJO, an outdated Jewish organization. “It takes real vision and out-of-the-box thinking to come up with something as genius as this.”

But others, specifically from the religious community, are less enthusiastic. Observant Jews typically celebrate Purim in a bar or at a festive party – eating and drinking in complete and total excess. Potek’s new idea is a serious departure from tradition.

“God clearly thinks Purim must be celebrated in a bar,” said Avi Frumstein a religious Jew and apparently God’s spokesman. (God did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

“Rabbi Potek has crossed a line here and his ordination should be revoked,” continued Frumstein. When pressed on whether that response was perhaps an overreaction, Frumstein doubled down. “My seemingly random, zealous passion on this insignificant, meaningless issue is actually just my way of overcompensating for a lack of passion about my insignificant, meaningless life.”

Potek seems to have embraced the controversy behind his initiative.

“I guess I am trying to challenge what it means to be religious, which is not only about drinking and partying,” he said. “You can be religious in a synagogue, too.”

When asked why she planned to attend the alternative Purim experience in a synagogue this year, Pam Scherzer said it sounded “exotic.” She elaborated, “I’m into alternative spirituality – for example, my friends and I all do yoga, which is basically like a workout class, but with a smack of Sanskrit. But I’m even more into telling people that I’m into alternative spirituality. So I’m looking forward to telling people that I went to this so I can sound cool and different without actually being too different because I’m uncomfortable with difference.”

So what can people expect at the event itself?

“No costumes, no groggers, no hamantaschen,” Potek said. “Those are all distractions from a holiday that’s meant for adults. We’re going to read from the scroll of Esther – about an ostentatious, vindictive, womanizing ruler – and see if we can find any modern-day parallels.”

That goal may be overly ambitious for a population that seems perfectly content with an un-compelling, childish, kitschy Judaism. But maybe, just maybe, a few people will move past the conversation about the location of the event and actually engage with the content of the holiday.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are not even those of the original author. They are totally made up – Happy Purim!

How to Celebrate the Spirit of Purim Across DC!

Jewish-holiday-wise, Purim is sneaky. It creeps up in mid-February or March every year, just as we’re reeling from our second try at New Year’s resolutions, and are already thinking about Passover. (Mark your calendars – Purim starts on Wednesday night, February 28th!)

For those who need a little refresher as to what this holiday is all about – I’ve got you covered. Purim celebrates the story of the Book of Esther, when the Jews were saved from Haman’s evil plot. You may have heard it called  “The Jewish Halloween” because of the awesome costumes worn to celebrate the holiday. It’s also the holiday when we shake rice-filled water bottles and make triangular hamentaschen cookies  (plot twist: fill them with nutella?).

There are four core mitzvot (commandments) for celebrating Purim:

  • Reading the Book of Esther
  • Sending Mishloach Manot (snack goodie bags for neighbors and friends)
  • Eating a festive meal (with plenty of adult beverages for those who choose to partake)
  • Giving gifts to the poor (Matanot Le’evyonim). This mitzvah is our expression of gratitude for when Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai saved the Jews from being killed.

In my view, the last I listed – Matanot Le’evyonim, or gifts to the poor – is rarely emphasized in our general understanding of Purim. The Purim spirit is one of fun, filled with costumes, community parties, delicious Hamentaschen cookies, and general positivity and merriment. This year, I challenge us to put a bit more focus into the Matanot Le’evyonim mitzvah – to not just satisfy the mitzvah by giving to charity, but to truly carry over the positive spirit of joy and celebration that is Purim into acts of service.

These four mitzvot are all part of the Purim holiday! Here’s how to participate in all four – check out these happenings across DC to bring you closer to the Purim spirit!

 

Megillah: Reading of the Book of Esther

Listen to the Megillat Esther (the book of Esther) read aloud. When you add in maracas, rice-filled water bottles, plastic “noisemakers” from Party City, and enthusiastic booing for good measure – fulfilling this mitzvah is much more fun than it sounds.

You can hear the megillah reading at:

 

Mishloach Manot: Make gift bags for friends, family, and neighbors

If you want to send mishloach manot (gifts of food), make sure to include hamentaschen! (This may be controversial, but the best flavor is definitely poppyseed.) Get a head start on these gift bags with:

Spread the joy of hamentaschen to all: consider donating hamentaschen you bake to local senior centers like Congregation Etz Hayim did this past weekend at the Culpepper Garden senior living facility in Arlington.

 

Seudat Purim: Have a festive meal

This is the one mitzvah that everyone seems to remember as “it’s a mitzvah to get drunk on Purim!” Although this injunction does tell Jews to “drink until you don’t know the difference between Haman and Mordechai” – what it is saying, on a deeper level, is to find a way to look beyond our rational minds, and tap into our deepest, faith-based self – and, of course, to have lots of fun! However, for those of us who aren’t big into drinking – you can still celebrate this mitzvah with a delicious meal (filled with foods symbolic of the Purim story), and by letting go of stress and totally relaxing into the spirit of the holiday.

Celebrate this fun mitzvah by:

Consider providing a seudah or feast for others – collect cans or non-perishable food at your Purim meal for a local food pantry! See what places like So Others May Eat (SOME) need. In the truest millenial fashion, consider having guests purchase items in need off of Miriam’s Kitchen’s Amazon Wishlist.

Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation

Matanot Le’evyonim: Giving back to those in need

Incorporating the spirit of service into the other Purim mitzvot can also help in bringing the spirit of Purim joy to the mitzvah of Matanot Le’evyonim!  This Purim mitzvah invites us to help at least two people and to provide enough food for a full meal. Go bigger than our typical mitzvah to give tzedakah, or charity, and bring the joyous Purim spirit to this mitzvah!

There are so many ways to infuse Purim joy into service work. Some may choose to give traditional tzedakah gifts, but others may prefer to give their time, energy, and skills. Read this article for more ways to give back across DC.

However you celebrate, wishing you a chag Purim sameach – a happy and joyous Purim!

 

 

 

 

About the Author: Shira Cohen is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! When not writing about volunteer opportunities in DC, she works in student life and disability services at a local law school. Originally from Charleston, SC, Shira loves DC Library $1 book sales and District Taco.

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Purim Guide 2016 // 5776

snowflakePurim is many people’s favorite holiday, but Purim is very near and dear to our hearts here at Gather. Some of you might wonder where we get the name Gather the Jews… well it is actually from the Purim Story.

In the book of Esther, she tells Mordechai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Shushan, and fast for me.” And so we do! We work to bring together the members of our community, connect them to each other and find their fit.

In that vein, Purim begins Wednesday, March 23rd at sun down. Do you know where you’ll be celebrating? There are many opportunities in the coming weeks to celebrate with the DC Jewish Community.

Did we miss anything? Submit events here and/or leave a comment on this post.

Thursday, March 10th

 Friday, March 11th

Thursday, March 17th

Saturday, March 19th

Sunday, March 20th

Monday, March 21st

Tuesday, March 22nd

Wednesday, March 23rd

Thursday, March 24th

Friday, March 25th

Saturday, March 26th