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Dear Friends:

It has long been recognized that seasonal holidays often have similarities across multiple religious traditions.  It’s not a surprise that holidays that fall around the time of the winter solstice tend to emphasize light and lights as central elements in their observance.  Similarly, the spring, when we are witnessing nature’s rebirth, is notable for holidays that emphasize this theme on a national and cosmic level as well – think Pesach and Easter.
One of the more interesting examples of homologous celebrations comes even earlier in the spring (or in late winter): Purim and Mardi Gras.  Using the language of the anthropologist Victor Turner, these are quintessentially festivals of “anti-structure.”  Anti-structural events are characterized by an overturning of accustomed social roles, often accompanied by dramatic play, and the evoking of a sense of “communitas,” an undifferentiated feeling of solidarity that stands behind and beyond the lines of differentiation that characterize normal social structure.  Both Purim and Mardi Gras fit this paradigm – people dress up in costumes, play roles they do not normally occupy, and participate in a general revelry that either collapses or reverses social distinctions.  We may speculate on why these celebrations come when they do in the calendar – perhaps it is the sense of winter drawing to an end and a readiness to “let it all hang out” – but, according to Turner, these anti-structural festivals play an important role in cementing group bonds and establishing a moral universe in which hierarchies do not go unquestioned.
The anti-structural character of Purim is evident in the story itself, with its dramatic reversals of fortune.*  Who would have thought that orphan Esther would become a queen and that the outsider Mordechai would best powerful Haman, allowing the Jews to turn a day that was to have been their demise into one of triumph over their enemies?  Even more telling, perhaps, are the four mitzvot that are the centerpieces of Purim’s observance.  First, there is the reading of the megillah itself.  We need to hear the story each year, to be reminded that fate takes strange twists and turns and that we’re all in this together.  Next there is mishloach manot, the exchange of gifts, both a symbol and an enactment of communitas, establishing a web of reciprocal generosity.  Third is matanot l’evyonim, gifts to the poor, the insistence that even those apparently at the bottom of the social structure not be left out of the collective celebration.  And finally, the se’udah, the festive meal where, perhaps, we drink to the point where we literally cannot distinguish the “good” from the “evil.”  To these mitzvoth, custom has added still other subversive elements – the Purim spiel, games and carnivals, men dressing up as women and vice versa, noisemakers and a general atmosphere of levity that threatens to undermine at every turn the seriousness of the holiday.
And what does any of this have to do with the business of a foundation like ours?  The first lesson, I would venture, one that every foundation and funder needs to recall periodically, is not to take ourselves too seriously and our good fortune for granted.  Working for social change, making grants and undertaking programs that aim to help people live better lives and shape a better world, is serious business.  And funders certainly enjoy a privileged position in our community and society.  But, it’s easy to translate these into an undue sense of self-importance.  Perhaps Purim can serve as a useful antidote to that tendency, reminding us that what is could easily be otherwise and that differences in wealth and status are secondary to what we all share in common.
Second, periodic disruption of the status quo is good.  It’s too easy to confuse the way things are with the way they ought to or must be.  Taking a turn as king, or heroine, or villain may give us a different perspective on who we are and on the world.  We like those who challenge assumptions and the taken for granted order of things.  We especially like them if they are motivated by a vision of a better order, one where reciprocity and generosity reign.  We want to encourage and support these kinds of people and organizations, and connect them to one another.
Finally, the message of Purim (and of many other anti-structural celebrations) is that life is meant to be enjoyed.  Joy is not constant, nor does it come without trials and tribulations, but simcha – joy – is not only pleasurable, it is generative.  It inspires us to be expansive, to share, to create more joy.   Joy is contagious.  For us at Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, ensuring that an individual’s Jewish experience includes a healthy measure of simcha is a goal that permeates our work.  To be sure, simcha is not the only Jewish sensibility we wish to see cultivated.  But, at a time when too many people’s experience of Jewishness is one of boredom or burden, making that experience more joyful can open the door to a richer engagement with Judaism’s many dimensions.
Mi shenichnas Adar, marbim b’simcha” – When Adar begins, joy increases.  So, be a little anti-structural and subversive this year.  Challenge hierarchies and frozen structures.  Feel the power of communitas.  And, above all, enjoy.

Jon Woocher,

*Honesty compels me to note that the Purim story is not without its problematic elements from an anti-structural perspective, particularly in the glee with which it records the slaughter of the Jews’ enemies.  Communitas does not extend to those descendants of Amalek.  But, that’s for another discussion.

One important theme of Purim has always been reinvention in the name of survival, and we are proud to be part of the (r)evolution of Sh'ma into Sh'ma Now.  Read more here. There is great bravery in being willing to release all but your essential mission, in order to see more clearly how you might achieve it in today's unique moment.

 "I do not know whether it will succeed, I know it has to be tried." - Rabbi Eugene Borowitz z''l, founder of Sh'ma


In the spirit of small disruptions, “the adjacent possible” that Andres Spokoiny recently wrote about in EJP, and lessons in creativity combining unlikely ideas, we’re pleased to share a few details from a preliminary report from RAVSAK (soon to be part of the exciting New JDS Org), on the pilot of the Hebrew digital badging project.

Three months into the project  they’ve brought together Hebrew language instruction, Jewish Sensibilities, and digital badging into a promising way of engaging students more deeply, not only with Hebrew language, but to create a mutually reinforcing reality between language, Jewish studies, and the school’s values, by using the Jewish Sensibilities as the structure for the badges.

RAVSAK  facilitated working groups of principals and Hebrew language educators from RAVSAK and Schechter schools. Through these conversations they received valuable feedback about the sensibilities they had selected for the project and how best to bring sensibilities into the Hebrew classroom through badges. They worked with partners to expand the menu of suggested badge-earning activities, determine how a student would earn a badge, and to develop rubrics.

A number of Judaic studies directors and teachers shared that the sensibilities overlapped with values that the schools already champion in their school and expressed enthusiasm for a program that would help them to integrate these values into areas of curriculum where they are not yet present, such as Hebrew. They also felt that digital badging would be an exciting way for students to creatively engage with the values of their school. These conversations affirmed that linking Hebrew language learning with Jewish sensibilities would likely create a mutually-reinforcing reality.  Sensibilities also created a common language across the schools.

 Educators were enthusiastic about integrating Jewish studies, values, and sensibilities into the Hebrew classroom in a fun and engaging way.  Many day schools are interested in integrating Jewish studies across the curriculum, in an effort to model the ways in which Judaism is connected to all aspects of our lives. The Hebrew Badge Project is exciting for educators, because it provides a structure through which students can engage with the connections between Hebrew language and Jewish sensibilities, and an opportunity for Hebrew teachers to bring more Jewish content into the classroom.  As this project moves into the next phase of its pilot we look forward to additional feedback from the schools and a better understanding of how the tool is working with students; we also look forward to sharing more of what we are learning with you.
Josh Lauffer - Nahafoch Hu


For our shared learning, this month we offer an original song (above) by Purim maestro Josh Lauffer. Nahafoch Hu builds from that phrase in Megilat Esther 9:1, at the end of the story when it’s clear that the tables have been turned. (If you can’t see the embedded video, click here)  Josh Lauffer is a performing guitarist, singer, and songwriter who studied with and accompanied Reb Shlomo Carlebach.  A self-defined “obsessive Torah-study fanatic,” Josh composes works like this one that poetically express the deep layers of meaning contained in Midrashic teaching.

This year this song speaks to us, as individuals and foundation professionals, whispering of two Purim themes: The value of turning everything upside down, and also the value of shaking things, as one might shake a grogger.
Everything changes. This fact can cause us great grief when we are unable to welcome its truth in our lives as we age, as we lose loved ones, as we experience any number of losses that the human condition can bring. But the flip-side is also hopeful: if everything changes, then difficult things, all that we see as our stumbling blocks -- those can change, too. 
It’s not a random process -- in the very course of confronting our most difficult losses, we typically find the greatest treasures -- resiliency, and the ever-present lesson of the power of radical acceptance.
When we turn ourselves upside down and shake, our change falls effortlessly from our pockets.
ICYMI - in the spirit of joyous (and seriously funny) anti-structure art, we love Yidlife Crisis (and the ever-fabulous, grok-tastic Mayyim Bialik)


Do you use an Android phone?  Sefaria is seeking Beta testers for their app-in-development.  Sign up here, with iOS to follow in early summer.  Torah at your fingertips...

We appreciated this d'var torah shared by the Bronfman Youth Fellowship (BYFI), thoughts from their alumnus Jacob Shapiro on parshat Tetzaveh and the Sensibility of b'Tzelem Elohim.

Asking "What can Judaism do for you?" is at the heart of applying Jewish Wisdom - we enjoyed this article by Ayalon Eliach in Haaretz (some people have run into paywall problems when accessing - sorry!)  Our favorite quote: This stuff is supposed to make your life better. If that’s not your focus, you’re missing the point.

Questions are, of course, important in Jewish tradition and are, arguably, one form of Jewish wisdom.  We enjoyed this modern, secular take on asking better questions.

This short article posed some interesting learning from the folks at Disney on the difference between having original, creative ideas and selling them.  For all that we prize innovation in Jewish programming, marketing is still an uphill challenge to interest people in truly original ideas.
What else should we be sharing?  
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