Megila readings find widening appeal among the seculars

Scroll of Esther to be recited at kibbutzim, shopping malls and Tel Aviv's central bus station.

By JONAH MANDEL
March 18, 2011 04:43
2 minute read.
Child with Purim noisemaker

Purim noisemaker 311. (photo credit: Tzohar)

This Purim will be the third consecutive year in which members of the secular kibbutz Gvat, located in the Jezreel Valley, will be able to attend a traditional reading of the Scroll of Esther in their kibbutz.

Since Gvat has no synagogue, the Saturday night event will most likely take place in the cultural club.

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“Whoever wants to come will come, whoever doesn’t – won’t,” said the kibbutz’s cultural coordinator, Ofra Rogel. “Such an event is not perceived as religious overtaking of our society, and in past years I didn’t receive any negative [feedback]. It’s a nice event for the kids, too, who come in costumes with their noisemakers. Telling the Purim story is part of our history and culture.”

She added that the kibbutz’s traditional party would be taking place the next evening.

The Gvat reading and nearly 60 similar ones, taking place in secular kibbutzim and moshavim nationwide, are the initiative of Ayelet Hashahar, a religious outreach organization that “seeks to strengthen Jewish identity, without missing any opportunity,” as founding director Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan puts it. Members of his organization reading the megila in secular locales aim to provide the communities with the right balance of religion and tradition – an exposure to the holiday, without an overdose of what could be perceived as intimidating Orthodoxy.

Many secular kibbutzim and moshavim are also home to members of Ayelet Hashahar, and Ra’anan believes it is, in part, their year-round activities that have “opened the hearts of the kibbutz members to deepen their acquaintance with the Jewish holidays.”

“There is growing openness in the kibbutzim in the past decades, in part since young members are now traveling the world and understand that you can sanctify more than one issue,” Ra’anan said of his movement’s presence in a domain that to some extent once perceived socialism as a substitute for religion.

“This generation has a less stark Zionist ideology, and people are awakening to the question of what we are doing here – many of the kibbutzim are on lands conquered from Arabs,” he noted.

The modern Orthodox rabbinical group Tzohar will also be hosting megila readings and Purim celebrations in more than 100 locations throughout the country, including shopping centers, absorption and community centers, high school gyms, Jerusalem’s Begin Center and the Tel Aviv Ichilov Medical Center’s lobby. A minyan for Russian speakers will be held in Petah Tikva, and young members of the Ethiopian community in Gedera will also hold a Tzohar reading.

“Our goal is to help secular Israelis feel less alienated when it comes to Jewish practice and show them that there are many ways to embrace tradition and become involved with one’s Judaism,” said Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav. “Purim, which has a social aspect on top of its religiosity, is the ideal time to spread that message.”

The Bina Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture will be furthering the outreach of Purim in offering a megila reading on the sixth floor of Tel Aviv’s central bus station, where foreign workers and others tend to mill. Tova Birnbaum, the organization’s content developer, will be reading the scroll through Sunday and Monday, while the words will be translated into sign language by artist Tamar Halutzi.


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