Old Mitzvah, New Circumstances

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Lylah Givertz and Lulu Brown have matching unicorn face paint at the 2019 MJCS Purim Carnival.

Memories of a year ago are vibrant. The last days before the pandemic lockdown began were filled with “elbow bumps” for greetings, but also memories of our community able to come together in celebration for our annual Purim events, our Purim Carnival and with clergy and volunteers distributing gift baskets of food and treats to our fellow congregants, friends and neighbors. 

These memories contrast vividly with what has become an abnormal new normal. With the Jewish holiday of Purim upon us (Thursday night, Feb. 25), traditionally a time for celebration and sharing, we are recalling last year’s community gatherings with a twinge of pain and longing for what “normal” can be once again, and soon, God willing.

The holiday of Purim offers a profound lesson in responding to difficult circumstances. The Book of Esther, which we read on Purim, establishes that throughout the ages we can best celebrate our salvation from the treacherous events described in its pages by performing two acts of kindness at this season:  

We give gifts of coins to the poor as tzedaka (“obligatory charity,” from the word for “justice” or “righteousness”) and we send gift baskets of festive foods to our friends and neighbors (mishloach manot or shalach manos). 

These acts signify doing the very opposite of what befell the Jews in ancient Persia where we  were a weak minority, the poorest against whom the cards seemed stacked. We were the victims of unfriendly neighbors who sought our demise. Therefore, we now reshuffle the stack by helping those in need, turning to them with gifts, noticing their circumstances and eager to help and make a change. We practice radical kindness to our neighbors, going out of our way to bring gifts of sustenance and care.

This year, as the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue prepared for Purim, news of the devastating winter storm’s impact on Texas grabbed our attention.  Millions have been without power and have struggled to stay warm, water and food supplies are scarce or even nonexistent in many areas, and all this against the backdrop of COVID-19.  We therefore decided to extend our gifts of neighborliness and generously to those in need in Texas. We invite you to join us. A quick Google search “How to help Texas storm victims” lists scores of organizations and charities where you can contribute, all working hard to provide housing, food and other emergency assistance.

Purim is a holiday thousands of years old. It feels very timely this year.