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March 1, 2012 11:39 am

A New Look at Purim

avatar by Gavriel Horan

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Purim spiel performance at The Jewish Theatre in Warszawa, Poland in March 2009. Photo: wiki commons.

On the holiday of Purim, Jewish communities around the world read from the Book of Esther, traditionally known as the Megillah—theScroll“. The Megillah tells the story of Queen Esther and Mordechai in the Persian capital of Shushan. According to Jewish law, one is required to pay proper attention to every single word of the cantor’s reading from a kosher Megillah scroll from beginning to end. If paying attention isn’t hard enough in this ADD generation the problem is amplified a thousand fold for those who don’t understand Hebrew. The majority of Jews experiencing Purim for the very first time completely miss the beauty and depth of the Megillah and walk away unmoved.

This Purim, following along with the reading will be a bit easier for many newcomers. For years, veteran educator Rabbi Yitzchak Weinberger of New Jersey, was bothered by the predicament that Purim posed most American Jews. Rabbi Weinberger has helped found adult Torah education centers in Miami Beach, Florida and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is currently a Coordinator of Torah Links of Northern New Jersey – a branch of the state-wide Torah Links outreach network. He dreamed of producing high quality visual material that could be shown by Jewish organizations while the Megillah is read, enabling those who don’t understand Hebrew to enjoy the reading as well. “I realized that to run an effective outreach Megillah reading we need to bring the Megillah to life for people who don’t know Hebrew,” he said. After reading a feature about the multimedia Jewish educational organization, Torah Live, he was inspired to contact them to mention his idea.

Torah Live is an educational Torah organization founded by Rabbi Dan Roth of London and Jerusalem that combines interactive multimedia presentations with live lecturers to teach Jewish law, philosophy, and ethics. Rabbi Roth was inspired by Rabbi Weinberger’s idea and got his graphic team to work illustrating portions of the Megillah to accompany the reading or to be used as teaching material before Purim. In addition to the full Hebrew text, each slide contains the English translation as well as a beautiful picture capturing the scene. In this way people can follow along the Hebrew together with the cantor while watching the slides.

Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits of Jerusalem, the Chairman of Torah Live, provided historical background to the idea of screening visual aids during the Megillah reading.

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“Holding the attention of the congregation for the duration of the entire Megillah has been a concern for centuries,” Rabbi Berkovits said. “It is for this reason that four pivotal verses are read aloud by the entire congregation at various intervals of the reading. The issue is even more pronounced when the Megillah is read for beginners – young and old – unfamiliar with the Hebrew text. Torah Live, known for its innovative approach to Torah education, has once again created a state-of-the-art production to keep one’s interest and follow the Megillah reading. Very much like the illustrated Megillas of old, the reading is accompanied by a most beautiful slide show of scenes from the Megillah along with the entire text in both the original as well as an English translation. I firmly believe that this visual aid will indeed succeed in helping so many who would otherwise find it difficult – if not impossible – to fulfill the mitzvah of reading the Megillah.”

To date, outreach organizations throughout the world – in Mexico, South Africa, Australia, the U.K., and across North America – have expressed great interest in this necessary program. Members of international organizations from Aish HaTorah to Chabad have similarly jumped on the band wagon along with a large number of Jewish outreach schools.

“This is truly exciting news for all outreach Synogogues,” Rabbi Yaakov Vann of the Calabasas Shul just outside of L.A., said. “In many cases, this is the very first time that the entire congregation of men, women and children can follow along with the reader.”

Any organizations interested in more information should contact Torah Live directly at: stunningmegillah@torahlive.com

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