By Alyssa Gorenberg, MHWOW Program Coordinator
Heated political debates are taking place in my social media newsfeed regularly and I constantly struggle with the concept of, “Will my comment or post make a difference?” In the same vein, as a child I made groggers for the Purim Megillah reading to drown out the noise of Haman’s name each time he is mentioned. I am not sure that my comment or post is doing anything but calling attention to a problem that exists in the world, which is something that I see often from friends, followers, and strangers online.
Regardless of where you stand on any issue, I think Purim gives us all the opportunity to put our big kid pants on and embrace the fact that we can do our part to make tangible changes in the world. This year, in lieu of groggers, I encourage you to take action and use Purim as an opportunity to make real changes around our 2019 Tikkun Olam Pillars.
Environmental issues & global climate change
In my opinion the best part of this pillar is that it is incredibly easy to make all MHWOW programs more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Whether you purchase your food from a local farmer’s market or have participants use source sheets on their phones rather than printing them, there are so many ways to make your chagim celebrations more earth-friendly.
If you’re looking to implement changes to your programs or life to go green, I highly recommend checking out Hazon! Hazon is an incredible organization looking to make our Jewish spaces healthier and more sustainable, they have amazing resources online and local staff across North America to support your efforts.
In the spirit of environmentalism, this is a picture of Terry, Josh, and me on the farm at the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Reisterstown, MD right before the 2018 MHWOW Elevate retreat. Fun fact: Pearlstone launched a Jewish educational farm and it plays a key role in the sustainability of their programs.
Prejudice, Discrimination, & Oppression
Program Idea: “Queen Esther’s POV”
Every year as I listened to the Megillah, one piece of the story that I think is glossed over all too often is Queen Esther’s identity. She is a Jewish woman, as we all know, but this is a piece of her she keeps hidden from her community because Jewish people were discriminated against and in this case targeted for murder. She eventually opens up about her identity and is able to save the Jews because of her position of power. However, it’s not lost on me as an adult that she didn’t feel safe about who she really is. Bring your community together to have a discussion about THIS narrative! When we speak about Esther in the story of Purim, we praise her for saving the Jews, but rarely do we talk about the bravery this required because she knew she needed to risk her life. She’s a heroine, but she is one because she found the strength to be open about herself. Yas kween! Stuck on what kinds of questions to pose? See below for some ideas:
- How does the Purim story change (protagonist, antagonist, themes) if Esther is the main character?
- What does Esther’s actions teach us about our own ability to make an impact?
- Share a time when you stood up for justice despite consequences you could face.
- Who are other marginalized heroines in the Torah?
Hunger, Food Insecurity, & Access to Clean Water
Program Idea: “Homemade Meals for our Neighbors”
As you may have seen in my Purim resources article, one of the four mitzvot you can perform during the holiday is giving matanot l’evyonim, which translates to, gifts for the poor. We are asked at this time to give gifts of charity to two different people and this is the perfect opportunity to do your part. Those experiencing homelessness often experience food insecurity as well and I happen to live in a place, Chicago, where these two issues are quite prominent. One thing that I am going to do is use my MHWOW funds to purchase food and gather my friends to make sack lunches to distribute on our walks to work. (Pictures to come, don’t worry!)
Mental and Physical Health & Wellness
Program Idea: “The Masks We Wear”
I love being able to dress up in costume and embrace a new identity during Purim. It was something I embraced as a child and can still have fun with in my adulthood. There is a larger discussion to be had about the fact that the opportunity to wear a costume can mask (every pun intended) our true identities in the same respect that those experiencing difficulties with their mental health do. MHWOW can be the best platform for you to start a conversation with your community about the way we use these facades to cover up our daily trials and tribulations. If your community members are comfortable with the idea, you could have a text study about mental health or hold a “speak out” to create a safe space for your friends to open up about their personal struggles.
These are four ways that you can make an impact on your community. The best part about Tikkun Olam is that there are an infinite number of ways to make a positive change on our community and I encourage you to do some self reflection and decide how you can make a difference. If you’re struggling with how to make this an MHWOW program, reach out to your regional administrator and of course after your program happens share your #MoisheMoment. Happy hosting!