Tag Archives: storytelling

The Jewish Holiday of Purim and Community Response to Hate and Violence

Good evening. I’m Susan. I’m here for the dialogue and the Turkish food. I also have some ideas I want to run past you.

The Title of my talk is: The Jewish Holiday of Purim and Community Response to Hate and Violence.

I’m going to tell the story of the Book of Esther. I’m only going to tell selective sections of the Purim story. Some of the story of Esther is uncomfortable, especially in a world where women are supposedly equal to men.

Once upon a time, King Ahasuerus was a drunken, fictional king in Persia. His wife Queen Vashti refuses to be exploited during yet another drunken feast. Ahasuerus sent for her. She doesn’t come. The King’s advisors are outraged. The King’s advisors convince him to get rid of this wife and search for a new one.

Esther is a pretty young Jewish girl who lives with her uncle, Mordecai. When the king’s administration demands all pretty young things come to the palace to audition for queenship, Esther’s uncle prepares her to go. His big advice is: Don’t tell anyone that you are Jewish.

Esther is one of a large group of women who spend a year at the palace being groomed. Mordecai spends a lot of time around the gateway to where the women are, hoping to hear how Esther is. Let’s skip some of the uncomfortable details of how Esther wins this beauty contest. The bottom line is that Esther becomes queen, wife to the drunken and easily influenced king Ahasuerus. Queen Esther is safe and comfortable in the palace.

Now, Mordecai spends his time in the gateway to the palace. He has become an advisor to the king. Not exactly part of the king’s regime, but not exactly a regular citizen either. Mordecai is appreciated for his mind and for his concern for others.

Enter Haman. Haman is an advisor to the king. Though he is not the king, he demands the respect the king’s position might afford him. Just like the king, Haman demands that citizens bow to him. Mordecai refuses. Maybe he refuses because Jews do not bow to earthly kings. Maybe he refuses because he doesn’t think Haman deserves that kind of respect.

Bottom line – Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman. Haman becomes obsessed with Mordecai, complaining about him and his whole people. Haman makes revenge his pet project. He gets a law passed. On the fifteenth, all the Persians are encouraged to attack the defenseless Jewish citizens of the kingdom.

When Mordecai hears of this new law, he is outraged and worried. He puts on the traditional clothing of mourning. He seats himself at the gateway to the palace, wearing sackcloth and ashes. His niece, the queen becomes uncomfortable. She sends a messenger to him with clean clothing.

He sends her a message: “Haman is planning to kill all the Jews! Go to the king! Fix it! Fix it! Fix it!”

She sends him this message: “While that is upsetting news, what do you want me to do? My whole job is based on pleasing the king. I can’t interrupt him, and I certainly can’t tell him bad news. Plus, you told me never to tell anyone that I’m Jewish.”

Mordecai writes back: “Don’t think for a minute that you can stay safe in the castle. Being queen won’t protect you. If you don’t stand up for the Jews, help will have to come from another place……”

Esther thinks about it. Then, despite her fear and discomfort, she sends a new response: “Gather all of our people. Ask everyone to fast with me for three days. Then, I will go to the king to ask for help.”

The people join Mordecai in sackcloth and ashes and fasting. Esther visits the throne room. The King welcomes her. Esther prepares two consecutive feasts for the King and his advisor, the evil Haman. At the second feast, Esther tells the king that she’s worried about the Jews and the new law. She admits that she is, in fact, Jewish. The king takes a moment to absorb all this information and then his administration quickly adds to the law.

The new law is that the Jews are allowed to fight back. So, the Jews and the Persians prepare to fight. The Jews win.

This story is violent and fictional. And it leads to a famous joke about us. Purim and Passover are both summed up this way: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.”

What have we learned from Purim?

Some of our lessons are these:

Jewish survival is confusing and wonderful. Jews are a minority in the world, and yet we survive.

It’s important to stand up for what is right, even when it’s terrifying.

Sticking together, working together, praying together, fighting together means everything.

Find the entry ways. Mordecai is almost always at a doorway or a gateway. The royal administration notices him because he’s always by the entrance.

Be a Noisemaker

We bring noisemakers to the Megillah reading. When the reader says Haman, people make so much noise, trying to blot out the sound of his name. Since January 20th, many of us have had a the chance to be a noise maker. There are a million suggestions and guidebooks out now about how to be the best and most-effective noise makers. Here are my favorite suggestions this week:

One: I have heard from a few sources that we should start talking about the Republican Administration. When the president does something that we find offensive or frightening, instead of talking about the individual president, we can talk about the Republican Administration. Instead of trying to hold one slippery person accountable, we as a group will hold the party responsible. And hopefully, the party will care about how we see them as a group.

As far as I can see, this party sees us as our group identity, religious minorities. So, we can let them know how that works – from the other end.

Two: When it comes to letting a politician know what we think, emails and voicemails aren’t as powerful as calling. (You must know that I  never never ever talk on the phone. I text. It’s faster and it doesn’t depend on two people being free to talk at the same time.)

BUT I’ve been calling our senators and my neighborhood’s representative. I haven’t called every day, but I’ve called at least once a week. I have a new notebook and I keep track of whose lines are busy, who answers, what I say, and what they say.

I’m a noisemaker. I get my ideas from a few websites and journalists whom I like and respect. I write down one issue. It usually starts with – “I’m concerned about….”

Hamentaschen

I have a Cookie Proposal.

If you’re Christian, then the whole country validates you, your customs, your traditions, your calendar.

The country doesn’t know that much about us Jews, but they believe they do. They know that we don’t accept Jesus as our savior, but most of what they know about Jews, they know from television shows like Seinfeld.

The main thing that non-Jews in Texas know about us is food. During hannukah, my friends ask for potato pancakes. During the high holy days, they ask for matza ball soup. During Passover, I usually share chocolate matza brittle. During Purim, I make hamentaschen, these three cornered cookies with different sweet fillings.

So, here is my idea: a Muslim Cookie Strategy.

The non-Muslim Americans don’t know you. They have no idea what Eeeed is, how to pronounce it, why there are two of them, and when to expect them in the calendar.

My strategy is teach folks about Islam with cookies. It’s not a brilliant theory, and it’s not just a play to receive snacks, but this is my idea: Before or after Eeed and other celebrations, bring some snacks to people who don’t really get you yet – the fire department, the police department, the teachers at your kid’s school, the nurses’ station at the hospital. I am proposing Cookie Diplomacy.

Storytelling

On Purim, one of our mitzvot, holy obligations, is hearing the Megillah, Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther. We are not obligated to read it, we are obligated to hear it. So, to fulfill this divine commandment, we gather together to hear the same story, every year. Storytelling is the glue that binds our community together. But just being part of the Jewish community isn’t enough. We, all of us, can use storytelling to bind us to our neighbors.

The reason we are here tonight is the Dialogue Center, a group that values connection.

As I have learned from my chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom, storytelling binds us.

As I have learned from the New Israel Fund, it’s time for us to stand together, to tell each other the good stories and the bad stories.

There is no better way than to deepen empathy than to share our stories.

Compartmentalization

Take the tough stuff seriously, and then party seriously. Ta’anit Esther is the fast the day before Purim. It’s hard for some of us to celebrate the fictional death of the fictional Persian attackers. Judaism provides us a fast day to separate our grief from our celebration. There is nothing like a day set aside for grief to make a day set aside for a party possible.

Conclusion

Thank you for this invitation. I’m honored to be included at the Dialogue Center. The Dialogue Center does important work, and the Dialogue Center also feeds me very well. Being part of this community, a group of friends, cousins, and bakers, is a blessing to me.

Love at RAWA

Submitted respectfully by Rabbi Susan E. Lippe, at the Raindrop Turkish House at Ladies’ Night hosted by the Raindrop Women Association on February 7, 2016.

Good Evening. Shabbat Shalom.

First, I want to say that I am honored to be here tonight. I’m excited to be included. I want to thank Rabbi Swedroe for not being able to come tonight and asking me to step in for her. And I want to thank my lovely friend Sarah Jew for helping me think about what and how I love.

This – interfaith dialogue – is my passion. And you – people who love interfaith experiences – you are my tribe. Thank you for inviting me and thank you all for listening.

The topic tonight is both simple and complicated. I have a list of many, many things, people, activities, experiences, and even colors I love. Also, I want to represent my culture truly and well.

Every answer I give is only partial, because I am only one small pixel of many bigger pictures. I can’t represent all American Jews, but I will try to share parts of my story that represent being Jewish in the United States. I will try tonight to meet this challenge and to share who I am, how I got here, and what, who, how I love and why.

Bubi

We called my father’s mother, my paternal grandmother, bubbe. Bubi is a Yiddish word for grandmother. It can be pronounced a few ways, but we said buh-bee. My Bubi arrived at Ellis Island with her parents and her siblings at age 16 in 1921.

Until then she had lived in Poland in a town called Bialystock, famous for those flat bagels that are filled in in the middle with onions or sesame seeds. They are called Bialys. You can get them at Sweetish Hill on West Sixth Street.

When my Bubi and her family arrived at Ellis Island, they were separated by gender for medical examinations. They were starving and wearing all the clothing they owned. Poland was dangerous for Jews then. Even so, her mother turned to her and said: “Your father is sick. If they send him back, we’re going back too.” Thankfully, the US Immigration Officials allowed them to stay. They travelled to Chicago to live and work with family. Eventually, my bubi, her husband, and her kids moved around the United States and ended up in Los Angeles. My bubi drove a Chevy painted in avocado green. She had her hair and nails done every Thursday. She took me for my first manicure.

She worked at the Beverlywood Bakery counter for 25 years. When I was a child, my bubi would take me behind the counter, to the back of the bakery and the guys would make roses out of icing in the palm of my hand. We ate chocolate babka, a kind of rolled up cookie that I still love. These you can get at the Kosher corner of the HEB on Far West.

My Bubi told jokes in English, but she always told the punchlines in Yiddish. She called us Mein Kinder.  When I was in college, I would call her before exams and she always told me that I “would pass with flying colors.” She believed that we were the best grandchildren in the world. I’m wearing her necklace now.

My maternal grandparents were born in America. So, we called them Grandma and Grandpa.

Grandpa

My Grandpa’s family originally came from a place that was sometimes Russian and sometimes Polish because the borders kept changing. Until two of his brothers died in the tenements of Lower Manhattan, my grandpa lived in New York where his dad was a peddler. Their family came to Los Angeles where his parents believed the kids would be safer because the buildings were short, only one or two stories tall. My grandfather quit school in 8th grade. His first job was selling newspapers on the corner.

My grandpa was in the auto parts business for a long, long time. In 1942 our government began to relocate Japanese Americans to internment camps.

Before they left Los Angeles, Japanese people my grandpa knew from work asked him and his partners to purchase their refrigerators and their cars. They knew my grandpa would give them a fair price, and they were only allowed to take clothing and some other small possessions with them to the camps. After the war, when Japanese neighbors and business associates were allowed to return to LA, my grandpa offered them credit so they could re-start their businesses and get back to their American dreams.

My grandpa had a big heart. He cried during cowboy movies. He also did a hilarious Tarzan impression, loudly. He wore suspenders and a straw hat. When any doctor would tell him he was obese, grandpa would just switch doctors.

While my grandmother was cooking dinner, my grandpa would play cards with me. After dinner, my grandma would play cards with me while my grandpa washed the dishes. None of them – not my Bubi, my grandpa, or my grandma – ever just let me win at cards.

Grandma

My grandma grew up with a single mother before it was trendy. They called my grandma’s mom Bubi Schissel. She tutored people in Russian and drank vodka, because apparently that is how you learn Russian. My grandmother’s mother wore sunglasses and slacks and lived in Venice Beach.

My grandmother always wore skirts and red lipstick. She had her hair done every week so she was blonde until she died at the age of 93. My grandma took the bus everywhere.

She was happy to take us shopping, but she also made our dolls sweaters and personally hemmed every pair of pants I owned until I went away college. She, however, refused to get involved with Barbie clothing because it was just too tiny. She and my grandpa would go out for margaritas and chips and salsa.

My grandma could spell anything. She told us that, when she grew up, she was going to be a detective. My grandma would make each of us our favorite meal for our birthdays. In fact, she made my parents’ wedding dinner. I am on a quest to make egg salad or potato kugel or a blintz as good as hers, even just once. I’m also wearing my grandma’s necklace.

At my grandfather’s funeral, my grandma sat in the front row wearing her sunglasses. At her funeral, we played their song,  “Night and Day” by Frank Sinatra. I love Sinatra too, and I never go anywhere without my sunglasses.

Torah commands Jews to respect our parents. (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16) One of the best ways I know to respect my parents is to love and remember their parents.

I think of my Bubi every time I make chicken soup or matza balls. I’m sure my dad does too. My grandfather loved office supplies. I do too. Just like my grandma did, my mom does a lot of laundry. In fact, my dad says that he only gets to wear 3% of his shirts because my mom always washes them and puts them back on top of the pile. I love laundry, too.

I’m not exactly like any of them though. My grandma washed her face with Ivory soap. My mom still does, but I love all creams, lotions, and essential oils.

So, that’s where I come from. My DNA comes from Russia and Poland. Both sides of my family were Jewish. I grew up in Los Angeles with almost all of them close by.

I know that some of you are thinking of tonight’s theme “Love” in terms of relationships like marriage, maybe because Saint Valentine’s day is coming soon. That is not really my expertise, but I will pass on this wisdom from my mother who has been married to my father for 52 years. She advises: “Staying together is based on choosing to grow in the same direction.”

But I’m not here to give relationship advice. From my long list of what I love, I’ve chosen to focus on what is different about me and what might be common to American Jews and/or to this particular interfaith group in Austin tonight.

I love this city.

I love the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in South Austin. I love the Natural Gardener and learning to grow vegetables myself. I love Deep Eddy and Shipe Pool. I love my neighbors. I love the tofu spring rolls and peanut sauce at Yaya and Mitad y Mitad tortillas from HEB. I love live music at Gruene Hall and the Continental Club. I love the Austin Public Library system. I love air conditioning and ceiling fans. I love taking visitors to bingo at [Ginny’s] Little Longhorn Saloon and to Sinners’ Brunch at Jo’s on Sundays on South Congress. I love that tipping is part of our city’s culture. People in Austin never ask me why I’m not married or why I don’t have kids, and I love that more than you could ever guess.

I love our country.

I know that the United States of America isn’t perfect, but I love it anyway. I love our democratic right to disagree. I love freedom and feminism. I love the Separation of Church and State. I love that we have an opportunity to educate ourselves and to share what we learn with others in the hope of making our country and our world better.

I also love Israel.

I’m not talking about politics, borders, or birthrights. I’m talking about my friends and my cousins in Israel. I love the Hebrew language. I love Israeli art. I love films by Yoav Shamir. I love the Mediterranean Sea. I loved living in a place where Jewish holy days shape the civic calendar. I love an Israeli December where you don’t have to listen to the same twelve Christmas songs everywhere you go. I love hummus and jachnun. I love the store in the Jerusalem market called Machaneh Yehuda that only sells halva. In fact, I assert that every vegetable is better in Israel with the sole exception of celery.

I love being Jewish.

Until I was ten years old, we were mainly gastronomical Jews, unaffiliated with a synagogue. For every Jewish holiday, my family got together and ate Jewish food. Then, I started going to Jewish sleep-away camp every summer and fell in love with Jewish life and tradition. I love arguing about Torah and truth. I love Shabbat and Passover. I love that the Jewish calendar keeps me organized so I won’t miss an opportunity to celebrate or to mourn or to learn, every year. I love that there are multiple authentically-Jewish, time-tested, ethical answers to almost any question we might ask.

I love to crochet, and I love my camera.

I love using my eyes and my brain for more than reading and typing at a screen. I love sharing what I crochet and the photographs I’ve made. I love these things, not only because they are fun to do and fun to have, but also because they are fun to give away.

I love connecting in person.

Even though I love to text and I love Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, I really love to sit or walk with people I love. I love old friends and new friends. I love making people laugh.

My assignment tonight was to speak about love from my cultural perspective.

When I edited this speech, I searched for ways I can best represent the American Jewish experience. Most American Jews I’ve met have great-grandparents who arrived at a port like Ellis Island from a far away country where Jewish safety was threatened. Most Jews whose families came from Europe eat the same things at holidays: gefilte fish, matza balls, chicken soup, and challah. Most American Jews I know have some relationship to Israel, though our relationships vary greatly.

We, as a group, talk with our hands, and we argue when our families are together. Jews seem to argue the way puppies play-fight. It looks and sounds like we are angry, but really we are loving interrupting each other and ripping apart each other’s theories.  Our funerals are in Hebrew, and somewhere we all have a record of our parents’ or our grandparents’ Hebrew or Yiddish names. In a variety of ways, American Jews fulfill the obligation of tzedakah, righteous giving. Whatever we each call it, Jews share what we have others.

Not all Jews in America have family who worked with their hands, like mine. In fact, the stereotype that Jews love school and succeed there only describes the most recent generation of both sides of my family. Not all Jews are attorneys or doctors.

According to the National Jewish Population Survey, the one thing that we all have in common is Passover. More than any other Jewish holiday or life cycle event, Jews in the United States celebrate Passover

In addition to Passover and righteous giving, the main thing Jewish Americans share is humor. It’s true that I am hilarious in my own unique way. In this, however, I am not alone. The Jews who have sought refuge in the United States of America collectively brought a dark sense of humor, which has kept our people alive and hopeful through tough times. We laugh at each other, we laugh at ourselves, and we try to laugh in the face of danger.

So, to reduce my cultural background to a short slogan:

We American Jews dearly love Passover, tzedakah, and humor.

These three things give Jewish Americans the strength and stamina to remember where we come from, to stick around, to help each other and our neighbors, and to make friends with people who aren’t just like us.

What’s the plan?

I’m looking for a new job, and I’m learning how to best present myself. So, I’m planning to use this blog as a forum to tell my stories.

Everyone has stories, and everyone makes mistakes. These are stories about my mistakes. I aim to post a story or a question at least once each week.

Your feedback will help make my stories better and better. Thank you.