Reisa Miller

Purim is another of those holidays where the Jewish people were saved from death by someone courageous enough to stand up for what is right.  In the retelling of the story there is much drama, along with spirited audience participation at the mention of the name of the dastardly Haman.  And, as is customary, children, and sometimes adults, dress up in costumes to hear and play out the story.  It is usually a joyful event because, once again, Jews escaped the evil decree.

This year, however, members of Kehillah of Arizona decided to break with that tradition and really hammer home a lesson in humanitarianism.  Members Lesley Hafalia and Alan Hirsh implemented a program that focused on an enormous problem here in our own country.

Poverty and the fallout from having so little was made very real to those who participated in the day’s events.  Alan Hirsh opened the program with a story of a poor couple who became rich because of their kindness.  Their riches, though, hardened their hearts and poverty came back into their lives.

Participating members were divided into groups, each of which rotated into one of three different activities.

In King Achashverosh’s Money Museum, the featured presentation was “A Grain of Truth about Income Distribution,” a very sobering display showing, through successive bowls of different amounts of uncooked rice, the annual income of U. S. families from those mired in poverty to the very rich.  The display showed the income disparity which ranged from one cup (which represented a total annual income of $22,000 for a family of four) to a 40 pound bag (613 of them representing Bill Gates’ worth, approximately 54 Billion dollars.)  Posters with portions from Pirkei Avot, Deuteronomy, the Book of Esther, Elie Wiesel surrounded the display, all espousing the importance, the necessity, the obligation and the heartfelt understanding that tzedakah must be part of what makes us caring human beings.  This very moving display left no doubt in anyone’s mind that there is too much destitution and hardship in a country so rich, and that it is incumbent on everyone to take action to help alleviate such misery.

We moved on to filling bowls with tasty hamantashen and packaging each bowl with pretty cellophane.  And then we made “Happy Purim” cards to go with the bowls of goodies.

Our next activity was designing our own “poverty bowls.” They can be described as a bowl into which one throws his/her loose change.  When it is filled, that money will go to a charity.  It’s much like the idea of a Tzedakah box,  just in the shape of a personally decorated bowl.  It went along with the ‘museum’ exhibit about poverty in the United States, which was the essence of our Purim learning session.  The bowls will be fired and returned to everyone to fill up.  They will be an ongoing reminder that we are responsible for helping to eradicate poverty.

We all then drove to Pueblo Norte Senior Village and celebrated the story of Purim with an audience of wonderful seniors who laughed and clapped and twirled their gragers energetically at the sound of Haman’s name.  Rabbi Sharfman narrated the story in her inimitable style while Alan Hirsh performed in what could have been dubbed an Oscar-worthy performance as King Achashverosh, Mordechai and Haman.  Lesley Hafalia was Queen Esther and supporting characters were played by several of our younger members.

Kehillah of Arizona members celebrated Purim in a very Jewish way: listening,  learning, creating, sharing, and left the celebration determined to practice tzedakah to make the world a better place.