A Year Like No Other
We have a famous saying that when the month of Adar begins, it brings with it joyfulness. It is a month filled with merrymaking, laughter, costumes and funny pranks. The sound of cap guns and Purim music usually mark the onset of the holiday season which lasts for weeks before Purim actually arrives. It is an odd and somewhat disjointed experience this year as the country tries to regain equilibrium after a year like no other. It was last Purim when we had only the faintest inkling of what the year was about to unleash. Who knew that the most fundamental building blocks of our lives, school, work, family, community, the shaking of a hand, a cup of coffee in a café, could be taken from us by a microscopic entity?
A year ago, megilla readings were to be limited to 100 people! We scrambled to follow that bizarre guideline, dealing with last minute readers going into quarantine and accommodating members of the community who needed private readings at home. That number seems so incredibly remote right now! This year, I am working on three women’s megillah readings to be held indoors/outdoors with masks and social distancing so that the numbers will not approach 50 let alone 100. The sense of the topsy turvy – of everything turning upside down – is particularly pervasive when guidelines keep changing! Trying to work out the logistics, alleviate people’s fears and keep straight who is reading when and where is enough to cause confusion between Haman and Mordechai before any alcohol enters the picture!
Last year, it was the Purim parties and megillah readings that were blamed for the incredibly swift spread of disease throughout religious congregations. It took time for anyone to fully understand that what had always made us strong was making us weak. We too we held a Purim Chagiga and Seuda at the Midrasha, joking about distancing and masks, using hand sanitizer obsessively. We could not decide whether to dance holding hands with the students or sit at the table together to eat the meal (we did). A few lone parents from abroad called asking girls to come home and we tried to alleviate their anxiety, preparing to weather the storm, telling the girls there was no reason for concern. Within a week, they were all gone and the entire operation switched to zoom. Yet here we are a full year later with even more students learning Torah in Jerusalem, their voices raised in laughter, choreographing funny skits and pulling pranks. Adar, with its incredulous sense of the unthinkable is the right month to acknowledge how far we have come, how much has happened and how we have prevailed.
This year, the halakhic questions around Purim are already familiar. Community rabbis have issued halakhic instructions (likely to be reissued as Purim approaches and situation keeps changing), based on the needs of their congregations. Some megilla readings will take place on zoom depending on circumstances. More likely, there will be many private or small readings. Purim is a holiday that like Chanukah holds within it a particularly requirement to publicize the enormous miracle of survival and the unseen but ubiquitous hand of God at central turning points in our history. No one thought it would take this long. Corona has not yet been relegated to the annals of history and we are living through events that will be recorded in their own “megillah”, to be taken out, read and remembered for years to come. We have learned this year to redefine communal and national togetherness. The global gathering of so many Jews on balconies, street corners and backyards (and when relevant on zoom!), in Israel and throughout the Diaspora, to hear the megillah should be particularly powerful this year, a sure sign of our awareness that God is with us in the here and now.