Years ago my wife suggested that it would be wonderful to take one of our holidays and go public with it, as is done with St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year and other ethnic days that become part of the public domain to celebrate.
The ideal holiday for doing so would be Purim, which we just celebrated. Everyone likes to dress in costume, and it is filled with partying and merry making, in fact the one Jewish holiday of them all that doesn’t frown on over indulging in food and drink. Adloyada (referring to imbibing to the point of not distinguishing between Haman and Mordecai) was the name of the public parade they used to hold in the main streets of Israeli cities in the earlier years of the state.
My wife’s reasoning in having a public Purim parade (she calls it Going Public with Purim) as a day where everyone can be Jewish is to remind the world and ourselves that Judaism is more than seriousness and heaviness in terms of the burden of survival that we carry over hundreds and thousands of years. The world is aware of the history of Jewish precariousness since consciously or unconsciously they know they have born a large measure of responsibility for our endangered status as a people, most dramatically reflected in the lack of caring as European Jewry was destroyed in the Holocaust.
Those of us involved in holiday celebrations, including Shabbat, know that there is much joy in Judaism, yet much of it is overshadowed by the struggle to survive as a people and keep our heritage alive. Many feel disconnected to rituals and practices they understand need to go on, to keep the tradition alive, but that need doesn’t necessarily turn them on. Moreover, it is not uncommon to feel guilt for not doing more.
My approach to Judaism is to teach it as a program of partnership with life, including the presence of God, for those comfortable enough and open to doing so. To make that Presence more comprehensible, I think of it as being connected with U KNOW HU, i.e. HU U KNOW, in noticing more of people, time and circumstances in our lives. This secular bridge for Judaism to ongoing daily application I call the Five Trails, the basis of the program I am now doing in the Bay Area, including at CBI (the next installment is Tuesday, March 2 at 6 PM; people of all backgrounds are encouraged to participate).
In engaging life as partnership with U KNOW HU, it includes times for joy, happiness and even frivolity, as well as times to get serious.
Paradoxically, in the Jewish calendar now before us, it starts with frivolity. The last month of the Jewish calendar is Adar, whose theme and slogan is “When it is Adar, we increase joy and happiness”. And appropriately it is Adar that is home to Purim. Even after the silliness of Purim, itself a fascinating approach and response, psychologically, to addressing fears of destruction, the Purim theme of happiness continues throughout the month, leading us to a whole new energy for the arrival of Nisan, the first month in the Jewish calendar (even though the year stays the same: 5770). Suddenly things get very serious: we are readying ourselves to celebrate human liberation from bondage: Passover, with the Seder, filled with joy and delight, nevertheless constricted (even with 4 cups of wine we need to stay sober!) in absorbing and sharing the lessons of freedom and the conditions we must create to maintain it.
How ironic that the feast of freedom with all its celebration and rejoicing in our launch as a people, no longer just an extended family, is accompanied by limited tastes in food and constant reminders of the pain of the past. In the seriousness of the celebration, accompanied by so many reasons to be joyous, we are given our mandate to develop this people and its approach to life: that we create and promote society built on different principles than those driven by rulers protecting themselves and their families.
We are serious about our joy because we know we are given a unique opportunity to make a difference for good in the few moments we inhabit history’s stage. We have the choice to connect with Judaism not just to keep it alive, but to get on with why we have done so, building new relationships with one another, with those who share such values, and with all of life.
See you for the big celebration of Passover! If we are serious about that, we can plan on a wonderful time!