The Book of Esther provides the basis for celebrating the holiday of Purim. Amidst a story of threatened genocide and a "miraculous" turn of events leading to revenge, the authors of the book of Esther provide a response intended to guide the diaspora community of Jews against future threats and long term sustainability. Yet unlike many other biblical guides, the book of Esther avoids any religious, theological or even the centrality of a homeland in their prescription for future success.
In Esther, Chapter 9, Queen Esther and Mordechai, the Jew, instruct the Jews, and subsequent generations to observe a holiday of feasting a drinking. During this holiday, the people are instructed to partake in four activities to remember their history and commemorate their victory. In a world of upheaval, where only by "turning things upside down" can the Jews be safe, these four activities serve as a guide to securing the one element that will provide for the future:
- Mishloach Manot: The giving of a portion to another
- Matanot L'evyonim: Gifts to the Poor
- Seudat Purim: The Purim Feast
- Megillat Esther: A Public Reading of the Book of Esther (twice)
Here is an article exploring this theme within the Mitzvot of Purim: http://www.jewishmag.co.il/111mag/purimmitvot/purimmitvot.htm
So in the spirit of Purim, I would like to borrow from these four mitzvot and apply them to the field of Jewish education. Much has been said about the importance of Jewish education to do the very thing that Esther and Mordechai fought so hard for: to create a vital Jewish people in the face of assimilation outside of the land of Israel. To do this, we must enure that our community of Jewish educators remains strong and vital.
I propose the following for activities for Jewish educational leaders:
- Mishloach Manot: As Rav Shmuel Herzfeld explains in this article, in lieu of gifts of food, we can share Torah with others. Jewish educational leaders should find ways to openly share their wisdom and understanding. It is not just a matter of self aggrandizement, but rather in spirit of building community that each and every Jewish educational leader should create a blog, a twitter account and facebook account to be a part of a larger professional learning network and share their "Torah" with others.
- Matanot L'evyonim: Jewish educational institutions struggle even to provide the highest quality of educational services to their consumers/members/constituents/students, but it is imperative to fully strengthen our community for the long term that Jewish education also concern itself with those beyond its walls. How can educational leaders provide educational opportunities to those in need of quality Jewish education, but may not be able to afford it, access it or be ready for it. Projects like Harkham Hillel Academy's Project Kesher are great stars.
- The Purim feast: This is intended as a joyous way to bring people together to celebrate, be merry and connect. Unlike the Shabbat dinner, there are no Shabbat restrictions or rituals. This is the Thanksgiving dinner for the Jews. So let's remember to give thanks and be merry. It is so critical to bring your stakeholders together to celebrate the many accomplishments of your institution. This includes your faculty, staff, board, lay leaders, parents, volunteer AND students. By celebrating together we appreciate each other and the roles we play in creating success.
- Reading the Story: Every institution should share its history. Thankfully many institutions have proven success over time, but as time passes and generations of students move in, it is critical to be reminded why the school originated, what community it was intended to serve and all those that have sacrificed for its success. Yet, even when creating a mythology around history, be very careful to remember to lessons of the Megillat Esther. Being able to satirize one's narrative, and poke fun at one's authority figures is what enables creativity and innovation to thrive, rather than fear and survivalism.
- Don't take yourself so seriously
- Don't forget to leave time for play.
- Don't forget it is all about the children.