By Liz Offen
Coordinator, Greater Boston Yachad
At Purim, we are commanded to hear the reading of Megillat Esther. Every Jew, including children, women, the infirmed and even mourners, are halachically required to hear the Megillah. The Shulchan Aruch also cites the requirement that all are obligated to read the Megillah, but custom now allows the Ba’al Korei to read it on behalf of the entire congregation. Fast forward to modern times: what does “hearing” or “reading” the Megillah mean if one is deaf or hearing impaired or sight impaired? Well, there is a modern-day solution: project a PowerPoint of the entire Megillat Esther onto a movie screen, and while the reader is chanting, another individual is following along, synchronizing the slides in the PowerPoint to the reading. The PowerPoint projection enables everyone in the congregation to be included and participate in fulfilling their halachic requirement. And Temple Reyim of Newton is doing exactly this on Saturday evening, February 23.
Temple Reyim is the only synagogue in the Greater Boston area using a specially developed PowerPoint presentation of the Megillah as it is being read and is one of 200 congregations across the United States and Canada. All are welcome to attend, but Temple Reyim of Newton has specially invited Greater Boston Yachad, the local chapter of the National Council for Jewish Disabilities (NCJD), and K’sharim: Connecting People with Disabilities to Jewish Life, a program supported by the Special Needs Professional Committee of CJP, to celebrate Purim with its members. In 2003, a new method of visualizing the Megillah reading was developed by Frank Duchoeny of Our Way/Montreal and Tehilla Kaiser of NCSY/Toronto for use with deaf and hard-of-hearing Jewish youth. Our Way is a division of the Orthodox Union’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD), serving the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
The technology features a PowerPoint program that projects both the Hebrew and English texts of the Megillah onto a screen or monitor. A hearing person follows along with the reader using the mouse of the computer. Incorporating special graphics, every time the name of Haman is read, a graphic comes up to represent “stamping out” his name. Our Way initiated the use of the technology to enable deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, among others, to follow the Megillah and participate in Purim celebrations. Although originally intended to benefit individuals with hearing loss, it is also appropriate for other special-needs populations, as well as engaging young children, the elderly, and those with visual impairments who benefit from large size projection. Along with the Megillah reading, Temple Reyim’s Purim extravaganza includes entertainment and yo-yo tricks by Joe the Juggler, a sing-along with Rabbi Benjamin Shalva, a costume parade, and games. Costumes for all participants are encouraged. The program begins at 6:30 p.m. with “Make-Your-Own-Sundaes” and havdallah, and the Megillah reading begins at 7 p.m. All are invited to participate: dev.jewishboston.com/events/19002-purim-extravaganza-at-temple-reyim.
In another crucial way, Purim is the ultimate Jewish inclusion holiday: when we dress up on Purim we are hiding our “true” selves under masks and costumes, yet asking to be included in the celebration. Just like Queen Esther, whose true identity is hidden until she reveals herself, we are the same people inside who suddenly look so different on the outside. Individuals with special needs often are not seen for who they are on the inside but rather are judged by appearances, often inaccurately. Imagine being in a Purim costume 24/7 and no one knowing who you really are. It is fun for a little while, especially when everyone is in costume, but it is painful and difficult to constantly struggle for recognition and acceptance. Purim helps to remind us that everyone needs to be seen for who they are on the inside, and everyone deserves to be included in our communities. Chag Purim Sameach!
For more information about Yachad, contact Liz Offen, Coordinator, at BostonYachad@ou.org or 617-285-0007.
*Photo of author Liz Offen and her husband, Ethan Mascoop, from Purim 2012
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