North Shore Hebrew Academy had a multigenerational celebration of Purim on Wednesday night and Thursday, with alumni and current students joining to chant the Megillah, the Book of Esther.
The Book of Esther tells of the Jewish victory over Haman, a vizier in the Persian Empire who sought to destroy the Jews but was ultimately hanged. The story is the focal point of Purim, a Jewish holiday that features hearing the story, charity, exchanging food and drink, festivities and costumes.
For the Wednesday night reading at Great Neck Synagogue, 11 students were selected from among 309 North Shore Hebrew Academy Middle School students that Dr. Paul Brody – who introduced the program at the school with Rabbi Michael Reichel in 2002 – has instructed over the last 18 years.
Then on Thursday morning, 18 eighth-graders and four alumni, both Ashkenazic and Sephardic, chanted the Megillah at a special assembly at North Shore Hebrew Academy Middle School. They each performed a portion of the reading.
“It’s enjoyable. Once you learn it, there’s nothing like it,” Brody said. “It’s just a beautiful thing – and it has a happy ending!”
But reciting the Megillah comes with a number of challenges, Brody said. One has to memorize which note and vowel is on each letter, for example,and a clear recitation of the entire Megillah almost never takes less than 40 minutes.
Brody said that under Jewish law, each word of the Megillah must be clearly understood by those listening. This also comes after a day of fasting, he said.
“It’s read from a parchment scroll that has to be written with a special ink by a special scribe who’s trained in a certain calligraphy and has a serious mindset when he’s writing it,” Brody said. “It takes a long time to write such a Megillah.”
Brody chanted the entire Megillat Esther at Great Neck Synagogue – marking the 24th year he has done so there and 47 years of doing so altogether. Eli Mendelson, a 2009 graduate of North Shore Hebrew Academy instructed by Brody, also chanted the entire Megillah for the congregation at a later reading.
“He read the ‘Gantze Megillah’ – it’s almost unheard of for a student to do that,” Brody said.
Mendelson said there is a lot of preparation that goes into reading the entire Megillah. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of satisfaction, he said, and over the years he has gained a multilevel understanding of the text.
“Compared to most other experiences reading in front of a congregation during the year, not only is this a particularly happy day, but you get a bonus of appreciating the content that you’re sharing,” Mendelson said.
Dr. Lisa Kalimi, whose sons Eric, class of 2018, and Daniel, class of 2019, read the Megillat Esther, said she has been chanting the Megillah every year for about the last decade in a women’s-only group. It’s not a skill acquired by most people or used very often, she said, since the Megillah is only read on Purim.
So seeing her sons among students chanting the Megillah was very meaningful, she said, and amounted to “passing on a tradition.”
“It’s fabulous,” Kalimi said. “It’s a proud moment.”
Ultimately, Brody said hearing his past and present students chant the Megillah made him feel extremely proud.
“I, along with the students’ parents, grandparents and administration experienced much nachat,” Brody said.