Purim is all about the hiding. Esther hid her identity from King Ahashverosh. Haman hid his evil side from the King. And as our tradition teaches, the name of God does not appear in the written account of Purim, because even God is hidden in the Purim story.
They were older than me, by at least five years, and I was afraid. Though my Satmar Hasidic neighbors were my friends, their cousins usually approached me with disdain whenever I’d go over for a playdate. On one occasion, they bullied me and lifted my shirt up. He asked “where are your tzitzis?” feeling uncomfortable I stammered, they said “you call yourself a yid!? Gai ahein you goy!” I tripped as I begged my feet to carry me towards the door, but then it got worse, they poured cold water on me, and repeated the abusive slurs. I walked home crying to never tell a soul until over a decade later. –How?!
Though they did not start off life as Jews, Puah Millsaps and her multiracial family have never felt more welcome than they do in the Jewish world. Be’chol Lashon caught up with this busy mom between homeschooling lessons to hear more about her family’s unusual journey, their joys and challenges.
The final process of converting to Judaism is to meet with the beit din (a rabbinic “court” of three learned Jews, usually clergy, who meet with a candidate for conversion). During the beit din, the council asks questions of the person converting to assess his or her sincerity. When I went through the process two years ago, I was asked two important questions that are very relevant to what is going on in the world today.
For some people, fitting into the status quo is soothing, comforting, peaceful. Not for me. For me, seeking a life of truth, has brought me peace. Knowing truth exists is comforting, and experiencing virtues of truth has been soothing to my soul.
How can Jews talk about race? How can Jews not talk about race? Race is part of all of our lives no matter the color of our skin or Jewish background.
As we approach our upcoming Festival of Lights, our stories about the Maccabees and our nation’s triumph over religious and political oppression. These stories fill us with anticipation for the holiday, but what lasting effect do they have on us once Hanukkah is over? It seems Hanukkah begins to fade away as soon as it starts, and we find ourselves back in our lives, with very few lessons we can apply for the rest of the year. A year filled with news coming out of Israel and the rest of the Jewish world that breaks the hearts of all who hear it. Whether we are talking about the kotel, religious affiliations, conversions, or the different Jewish ethnic groups, it seems like our divisions are defining us as a people. It’s with these thoughts in mind that I look to the Hanukkah story for inspiration and insight. But it’s not the victory of the Maccabees that has the most to teach us, but rather the often ignored story of what happened after the miracle of lights.
For many years, I worked in the most special place I could imagine. A radical Beit Midrash (house of study) in Jerusalem- Memizrach Shemesh, the Social Action Beit Midrash, inspired by the traditions of Jews from Arab lands. At Memizrach Shemesh, we used Jewish texts, with a special emphasis on Sephardic and Mizrachi Rabbinic texts, as tools for awareness-raising and social change. We trained leaders, educators and activists in Israeli society with the perspective that good community workers need to learn before taking action. I directed Memizrach Shemesh’s Youth Leadership Department for a decade.
When I was eight years old, our family began looking into adopting a child. I was nervous and excited about the possibility of becoming a big sister. During the adoption process, I had a feeling that we would get to adopt an African American baby boy. It turned out I was right. A few months after I turned nine, my little brother was born and became part of our family.