Purim Brings Joy to Los Angeles Jewish Health

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Purim Brings Joy to Los Angeles Jewish Health

Mar 31, 2023

Around the world, Purim is a joyous holiday that marks the survival of ancient Persia's Jewish community against long odds. At Los Angeles Jewish Health, the celebration is especially festive—with staff and volunteers working hard to make it special for all residents.

On Purim, Jews read from the megillah to retell the story of Esther, the biblical heroine who risks her life to save the Jewish people from annihilation. Her husband, King Ahasuerus, is served by a scheming vizier named Haman who, fueled by a personal vendetta, hatches a plot to kill all of the kingdom's Jews. When Esther reveals herself as a Jew to the king, he upends Haman's plan and instead has Haman hanged on the very gallows the evil advisor had built for the Jews.

Across Los Angeles Jewish Health campuses, residents and staff came together for a glorious day of exuberant celebration. At Grancell Village, an Orthodox rabbi dressed as a cowboy read the megillah while residents used graggers (noisemakers) and booed every time Haman's name appeared in the narrative. As part of the celebration, Los Angeles Jewish Health staff dressed in costume and performed a Purim spiel, or skit, as residents watched on with delight.

"What's so wonderful about Purim at Los Angeles Jewish Health is that all of our staff, across diverse departments, participate to bring joy to our residents," says Chief Mission Officer Rabbi Karen Bender, who dressed as Haman for the spiel. "Our tradition says that, when we enter the month of Adar on the Jewish calendar [the month during which Purim falls every year], we need to spread as much joy as possible for the entire month. So, leading up to the holiday, I came to campus dressed as a penguin, a banana, and a hamantaschen [a triangular holiday cookie in the shape of Haman's hat]. One day, I wore a blue top hat and bow tie to bring levity so residents would feel the joy of this time of year."

Corey Slavin, senior vice president of the Los Angeles Jewish Health Foundation, dressed up as Mordechai (Esther's uncle) in the spiel. For her, participating in the Purim festivities is particularly meaningful. "To play a role in celebrating a Jewish holiday that is focused on bringing fun and merriment to residents is amazing because I get to be part of the very community I'm raising money to help,"she says. "Our seniors, with their wisdom and insight, give us so much; I'm thrilled to give back to them. It's exactly why I come to work every day."

In the afternoon, a nursery school class came to campus; dressed in costume, the children put on a dance and then handed residents masks they could wear themselves. "The kids brought a whole other kind of incredible energy,"Rabbi Bender says. "After they gave out the masks, I distributed mustaches to any residents who wanted to stick them on!"

Staff in costume also paraded across Grancell Village to make sure they brought the celebration to every corner of campus. "It was terrific because, if you couldn't come to Purim—if you were in rehab, for example, or just got out of a procedure—we brought Purim to you. And the staff had a blast,"Rabbi Bender says.

At Eisenberg Village, Rabbi Ron Goldberg recruited residents to read the Purim tale to the larger community. "We read it mostly in English on our campus, which gave our residents a chance to understand the story. In addition, we had popular musician Cindy Paley lead us in song, which added a lot to the joyful experience,"Rabbi Ron says. "After so many years of COVID, people were really excited to be part of it all."

Amidst the festivities, Rabbi Ron also led residents in an eternal Purim debate. "We had heated discussions about the best flavor of hamantaschen,"he laughs. "My two favorites are cherry and poppyseed, but I think the best flavor is whichever one you happen to have in your hand."

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