The costumes line the streets and Purim is in the air. It's really one of my favorite holidays, made more so by the preparations for our community's traditional English-speaker's Tzfat PurimSphiel. I excitedly anticipate the unique mishloach manot that my Sepharadi neighbors send -- their homemade Moroccan Purim challahs, orange-flavored donuts, muffletot and sambusks are a highlight of the holiday. I make my own strawberry jam, since spring is strawberry-time in Israel (wash and crush 2 kilos of strawberries, add a tiny bit of sugar and let it simmer for several hours on the stove till it turns into a jam) so that I can present my neighbors with strawberry hamantashen.
For the last few years I've been teaching about Judaism and Israel to 6th and 7th grade students at American Hebrew schools. Jewish schools are increasing their elearning activities and even Jewish Educator Awards are noting elearning in their award presentations.
Our online classes include a variety of frameworks, for homeschooled kids, kids who live in areas in which they don't have access to a local synagogue/temple school and students who meet in their local temple or synagogue afternoon program and participate in together with their peers. These lessons vary: we discuss different aspects of Judaism, contemporary Jewish issues, Israel and the background and reasons for many of our Jewish traditions. It's important to me to create lessons that incorporate current events or upcoming holidays so that the content will be meaningful to the students.
Last year I tried to find some content that would make Purim more relevant to these students. The kids were aware that I live in Tzfat and they had wanted me to explain kabbalah. As Purim approached I decided to present a lesson that would explore the Purim holiday in the light of kabbalistic teachings while challenging them to dig into the hidden meanings of Purim and connect the holiday to the concept of Tikkun Olam.
Purim wasn't familiar to most of the kids so we started out with an overview of Purim, told to one of Ari Lesser's raps. The kids got quite a kick out of that. From there we moved into explaining Tikkun Olam -- the kabbalistic view of Repairing the World -- and then connected it to our mandate to protect our environment.
Our lesson specifically focused on Esther. Who was Esther? Why is she remembered as a great Jewish woman? Why did God expect her to save the Jewish people?
Esther was a young, simple woman who had been thrust into a bewildering situation. The king had chosen her as the woman that he wanted to become his future queen -- a job that Esther did not pursue or want. However Esther's cousin/uncle/guardian Mordechai encouraged Esther to accept the position. He believed that God had a hidden reason for placing her in this situation. Esther wasn't obligated to accept the post but she agreed to do so because she was prepared to go beyond herself for the greater good.
According to Judaism, each of us is the guardian of our environment. God didn't instruct man to protect the planet because He was lacking for alternatives -- according to Judaism, man is the earth's sole creature who has the ability to restrain his natural inclinations for the sake of a greater good. Whenever one of us pushes ourselves to compost, recycle, clean trash, reduce energy bills, use public transportation, plant trees or take steps to reduce our carbon footprint, we follow Esther's lead. That was the message that I wanted the students to absorb.
As the class progressed we used voice recording and PPT presentation tools to develop the students' understandings of how Esther's place in history evolved. Esther wasn't great because she acted virtuously. The significance of her actions lay in that fact that she was willing to step out of her comfort zone and stand up for what was right.
The class then returned to the main focus of Purim -- as a holiday of hidden miracles and we started to discuss climatic changes. These changes seem frightening on the surface, but they might, in fact, be hidden miracles. We don't know what God's plan is. Perhaps His plan includes creating a climate in which certain species will evolve or maybe climactic change is His wake-up call to tel us to become more cognizant, more involved and more pro-active in safe-guarding our planet.
We concluded the lesson by sharing a linoboard in which the students collaborated regarding their ideas about the things that each of us can do to "be an Esther." The kids' had numerous ideas of things that we can all do to help reduce our carbon footprint.
To conclude the lesson we reviewed the mystical relationship between Purim and "Hidden Miracles. God's name is never mentioned in the Megilla -- commentators have debated this omission for thousands of years. So we related this omission to the idea of hidden miracles. What does God expect us to do before He steps in? This is a particularly important lesson to consider as we think about our responsibilities to our environment.