Sunday, May 31, 2020

Purim is just a few days away. While most of us are likely to have our plans in place, there are many right in our shadow each day who do not.

Does your child go to yeshiva with another who comes from a home that is not shomer Shabbat? There are more students out there like this than we realize because they don’t openly advertise it. Ask your child if they have a classmate who doesn’t keep Shabbat. See if that family has a seuda to attend. If not, invite them to yours!

Do you have a neighbor on your street who is Jewish, yet not religious? Do they know it’s Purim before they see those around them in costume and delivering mishloach manot? Walk over and give them a mishloach manot of your own. Wear a smile and share the contagious cheer of this festive day!

One of the easiest things we can do as Jews is train our eyes to search out fellow Jews who are not maximizing this part of their identities. There are simple ways to encourage their Jewish souls to wake up. There is no better time than Purim when observing the mitzvot is so effortless and enjoyable.

In this spirit, the Jewish Learning Experience (JLE) of Bergen County is hosting its annual Purim Megilla reading and seuda (festive meal) on Tuesday, beginning at 5 p.m. The Megilla reading is open to the entire community. The seuda, which will include singing, dancing, mishloach manot for adults and prizes for kids requires a reservation (RSVP to [email protected]). This seuda is designed with those who have nowhere to go in mind, particularly those less affiliated religiously. Any one of us who sees a Jew without plans for Purim can suggest the JLE celebration to them.

JLE board member Devorah Merriam, daughter of founding member Sam Kaplan, talks about how her father’s outreach program fills an important void. “There are other organizations that run Purim programs, but not for Purim day. There are many Megilla readings on Purim night. But, it’s also a mitzvah to eat the seuda on Purim day and we offer that.” JLE also provides one of the latest Megilla readings possible on Purim day for those who need to be at work earlier when most Megilla readings take place.

Sam Kaplan added, “The greatest form of matanot l’evyonim is for religious people to invite lesser-affiliated people to your seuda or to sponsor someone to come to the JLE seuda. That would be the top-level thing to do.”

Kaplan practices what he preaches by spreading the Purim message among his co-workers. “On Purim day, I go to work in New York City just to give out shalach manos to every Jewish employee in my company. Then I leave early and take the rest of the day as vacation.” His idea of taking the rest of the day as vacation is actually running to Congregation Shaare Tefillah in Teaneck to work with his daughter in setting up the Megilla reading and seuda for those attending the JLE celebration later that afternoon.

Kaplan; Merriam; Rabbi Justin Wexler, who is in his second year at the JLE; and a committee of volunteers get together every year to carefully plan out this holiday event. This is the 35th year the JLE is hosting a Purim program. Kaplan said it’s changed formats over the years, from offering both Megilla readings (the night before and the day of Purim), in addition to the festive meal. His wife, Marcia, did all the cooking herself in the early years and served the meal in their house. Now it’s been condensed into a Megilla reading followed by a catered buffet held at Shaare Tefillah since the crowd is too large to fit in a house.

Just as Merriam grew up watching her parents care about Jews who were less affiliated, she’s sharing this legacy with her own children. “I want my kids to see what we do. It’s really good for them. I take them to everything.”

Performing acts of kiruv is not reserved solely for organizations like the JLE or Chabad; it’s incumbent upon all of us to look for others who are missing out. Whether we can invite them into our own homes or connect them to the JLE’s Purim celebration, it’s one of the easiest times of year to do more.

“It’s such a fun holiday,” said Kaplan. “We have to share our message with everyone. Sharing your Jewish heritage.”

The Jewish Learning Experience Purim celebration will take place on Tuesday, March 10, beginning with the Megilla reading at 5 p.m., followed by the festive meal at 5:30 p.m., all at Congregation Shaare Tefillah, 510 Claremont Avenue, Teaneck. Reservations required for the meal to [email protected] Cost is $18/adult with a cap of $54/family.

By Allyson Gur-Aryeh