Living Life from Purim to Purim

In loving memory of Jonah Dreskin

V’na’hafoch Hu!
One aspect of Purim is this mouthful of Hebrew words
V’na’hafoch Hu - when everything is flipped!

Purim is always complex for me.
You see, I knew a young man years ago named Jonah Dreskin,
his parents are beloved colleagues in the Reform Movement.
In 2005, Jonah was my camper in the songleading elective I taught with Chana Rothman at the artist formerly known as URJ Kutz Camp.
He wore big shirts and played ukelele and was really one of the good ones.
But ever tragically in March of 2009, Jonah died.

The day Jonah was buried, I was assigned to lead morning prayer services at HUC.
I was a 2nd-year rabbinical student AND it was Purim.
While my heart was pulling me to be in Westchester for his funeral,
my responsibilities were pushing me to stay at school.
It all seemed like a fluke —
Jonah wasn’t supposed to be dead
and 2nd-year students weren’t supposed to be in charge of Purim tefillah.

What I learned in that moment is that I live my life from Purim to Purim,
carrying with me that teaching that is at its epicenter:
V’na’hafoch Hu, when things are flipped,
which is essentially the upside-down, inside-out nature of being human.

Most people are messy, imperfect, beautiful and a little broken.
We mostly know this to be true - 
but it seems that in spite of this truth
so many we encounter would prefer to walk through this world zipped up,
confined to social norms, limited by what others think, 
or trying to meet proscribed expectations set out for them by society. 
We do this, I think, to find balance and control, 
and to counter/hide/cover/mask the real truth which is that,
more often than not, life actually feels upside-down, flipped,
what is good and what is bad are often indiscernible and inexplicably intertwined.

And so perhaps, we seem to think if we live outwardly in a certain way,
others won’t know the inner entanglement we experience.  

But Purim gives us permission.
It flips the script and invites us to be our messy human selves.
It reminds us that we don’t always know what is going on with people
behind whatever masks they choose to wear.

Purim, V’na’hafoch Hu, is the ultimate Yes AND:
Its when you celebrate this joyful holidayAND acknowledge at the same time that 500,000 people have died of Covid-19 in America this year.
It is grief - yes, and joy.
It is evil - yes, and goodness.
Poppyseed - yes, and apricot.
Hidden - yes, and revealed.
Figured out - yes, and falling apart.
Zipped up - yes, and feeling so messy.

On that Purim day that was Jonah’s funeral,
I had to find within myself the capacity to hold the jest and joy of Purim
alongside the great grief of Jonah’s departure from this world.
V’na’hafoch Hu, when everything is flipped, illuminates this question:
What if we lived every day as if it were both Purim & the funeral of someone we love? What if every day we would see in each other’s face
both joy and grief, delight and desolation — the breadth of the human experience.
Perhaps then humanity might become more gracious,
kind, loving and understanding to our fellow beings.

May it be so...

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