Purimpalooza 5778 Recap

The CBS campus was packed this past Thursday afternoon and evening, as Beth Sholom community members of all ages donned costumes and imbibed good spirits during our annual Purimpalooza: Community Purim Carnival & Spiel To Support CBS Educational Programs. It’s a mitzvah to act the fool on Purim, so we tipped back our cups, ate dessert before dinner, grogged as we bounced, and generally went happy-wild together in costumed bliss.

Beloved Bay Area Jewish educator and entertainer Mimi Greisman put on a Purim puppet show that was a huge hit with our youngest community members, and the live entertainment by youth band Planet 17 (Elai Levinson, Alana Moore, Noa Resnikoff, and Hannah Urisman), the hip hop dance troupe Presidio Panther Dance Team (featuring Talya Glazer), and DJ Don Marks were hits with our all-ages audience. As one long-time congregant remarked, "It’s such a delight to see so many kids and young families reveling in this holiday." Indeed, it was!

The main attraction of this year’s Purim celebration was Flashback 5728, the original CBS Purim spiel musical featuring a script, cast, and crew of community members (a full list of participants is included at the end of this post) as well as a lot of classic 60s songs. This year, as last, the spiel was produced and directed by our talented all-star volunteer, Tracy Swedlow. Queen Vashti (aka, Caitlin Ahrens, pictured at the top of this post) blew the crowd away with a powerful, Janis Joplin-like rendition of "Piece of My Heart," but that was just one of many spiel highlights!

Special thanks to the many volunteers — from our Beth Sholom Madrichim to the United Synagogue Youth (USY) teens to CBS elder statesmen (and women!) — who staffed carnival games, ran the food counter, bartended, and helped Executive Chef Jane Sykes in the kitchen! Thanks, also, to Camp Ramah Norcal and Grand Bakery for participating in and contributing to our Purim fun. Thanks to the CBS Family Preschool and Shabbat School parents who did heavy lifting on behalf of CBS education, successfully soliciting so many great prizes for this year’s Purimpalooza raffle and silent auction, and also to those who helped the Beth Sholom staff plan the event. (See the full list of community volunteers at the end of this post.)

Another round of Persian fist pounds to the five volunteer bakers – Allen Levy, Betty Newman, Debra Surkin Perloff, Rosemary Rothstein, and Maralyn Tabatsky – who made hundreds of hamantaschen using Eva-Lynne Leibman's delicious recipe for the festivities. We all enjoyed the fruit pastries of their labors!

Finally, Purimpalooza wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the entire Beth Sholom staff, including all of our CBS Family Preschool teachers and everyone in the main office! Thanks for taking the organizational lead and working tirelessly to make the special day possible.

Todah rabbah (thank you very much)!

Check out some photos from the festivities below.

Community volunteers: Laura Albers, Osher Almog & Kira Gaber, Astrid Altschul, Thomas Bettles, Chelseaa & Dan Bush, Ben Chinn, Elin Cohen, Shana Cohen, David Coupar & Ashley Polselli, Wendy Cown, Ari Dalfen, Jesse Fink, Ellen Ginsberg, Amanda & Andrew Gold, Denise Goldstein, Steven Goode, Andrea Gough, Melissa Hansen, Henry Hollander, Veronica Holman, Sara Horwitz, Jason Jungreis, Nathalie Kaplan, Leo Kessler, Michali Kolnick, Andrea Korsunsky, Viki Lam, Carla Lieberman, Robyn Lipsky, Don & Gabi Marks, Mellissa Miller, Arlo Novicoff, Dawne Bear Novicoff, Liz Noteware, Pam Polselli, Crissy Ponciano, Carolyn & Pankaj Prasad, Kristen Rice, Dan & Anna Rubinsky, Josh Seeherman & Rebecca Brown, CJ & Maya Suchovsky, Nate Teitelbaum

Donors to raffle and silent auction: Maura & Ari Feingold, MacKenzie & Tam Huynh, Stacy & Steve Jenson, Kenyette Jones, Derek & Melissa Miller, Ashley Polselli, Dan & Anna Rubinsky, and Lu & Norman Zilber

Flashback 5728 Cast & Crew: Caitlin Ahrens, Linda Bernstein, Max Billick, Asher Chinn, Ben Chinn, Ernie Ernstrom, Talya Glazer, Scott Horwitz, Steve Miller, Debra Surkin Perloff, Max Schleicher, Aaron Seeman, Tracy Swedlow, Elyssa Wortzman, Daniel Zilberman, and Josh Zilberman

Purimpalooza Recap

Facebook_Purimpalooza23_March2017The CBS community filled our campus on Sunday, donning costumes and good spirits for Purimpalooza: Community Purim Carnival & Spiel To Support CBS Educational Programs. We gamed, gambled, bounced, danced, ate, drank, grogged, and spieled together, toasting a temporarily inverted world.

Unquestionably, the highlight of this year's Purim celebration was Long Live The Spiel, the Purim spiel produced and directed by congregant and all-star volunteer, Tracy Swedlow. Featuring an all-congregant crew and cast (a full list of participants is included at the end of this post), the spiel adapted music and lyrics from the hit musical Les Misérables to tell the story of Esther, Mordecai, and the loathsome Haman.

Special thanks to the many volunteers — from United Synagogue Youth (USY) teens to CBS elder statesmen (and women!) — who staffed carnival games, ran the food counter, bartended, and helped Executive Chef Jane Sykes in the kitchen! Thanks, too, to the CBS Family Preschool parents and Shabbat School parents who hustled on behalf of CBS education by successfully soliciting so many great prizes for the Purimpalooza raffles and silent auction, and also to those who helped the CBS staff plan the event. (See the full list of community volunteers at the end of this post.)

Upside down Purim high-fives to all of the megillah readers – Pat Ackerman, Adam Hertz, Scott Horwitz, David Malman, Marshall Schwartz, and Rabbi Glazer – and their benevolent vizier, Owen Leibman, who organized and read, as well.

Persian fist pounds to the seven volunteer bakers – Karen Benjamin, Marsha Glantz, Ruth Jaffe, Eva-Lynne Leibman, Allen Levy, Sharyn Loeb, and Debra Surkin Perloff – who made 400 hamantaschen for the weekend festivities. We enjoyed the fruit pastries of their labors!

Finally, Purimpalooza wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the entire CBS staff, but Katherine Friedman Barboni, Dale Kleisley, Kim Hegg, and Jane Sykes deserve a special shout-out for taking the organizational lead and working tirelessly to make the special day possible.

Todah rabbah (thank you very much)!

Check out some photos from the day below and see even more on our CBS Facebook page.

Facebook_Purimpalooza1_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza10_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza4_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza5_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza6_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza8_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza12_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza14_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza13_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza18_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza19_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza20_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza24_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza26_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza27_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza31_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza32_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza35_March2017 Facebook_Purimpalooza36_March2017 Community volunteers: Gillian Adams, Osher Almog, Kathryn Bair, Daniela Bernstein, Chelseaa Bush, Daniel Bush, Asher Butnik, Janet Carignani, Rajeev Chopra, Wendy Cown, Sonia Daccarett, Andrew Dawson, Susan Dawson, Kira Gaber, Eli Ganz, David Goldenberg, Sam Goldenberg, Jackie Holman, Veronica Holman, Sara Horwitz, Ovid Jacob, Noah Keith, Leo Kessler, Miles Kessler, Viki Lam, Vered Levinson, Jason Levy, Carla Lieberman, Mia Mandler, Adi Barak Marino, Melissa Miller, Liza Monge, Devin Patrick, Kristen Rice, Anna Rubinsky, Dan Rubinsky, Bat-El Saad, Mo Safdie, Jennifer Sand, Eric Steuer, Tracy Swedlow, Jordan Toledo, Bret Wadleigh, Rick Wolfgram, Hsieyun Yang, Nicole Ziman, and Sasha Ziman

Donors to raffle and silent auction: Kathryn Bair, Katherine Friedman Barboni, Rebecca Brown, Rhoda Draws, Ari Feingold, Maura Feingold, Stacy Jenson, Steve Jenson, Dale Kleisley, Eva-Lynne Leibman, Anne McComas, Debbie Patrick, Devin Patrick, Jim Patrick, Bat-El Saad, Pam Seaman, Josh Seeherman, Tracy Swedlow, Jane Sykes, Robyn Sribhen White, Lucille Zilber, and Norm Zilber

Long Live The Spiel Cast & Crew: Caitlin Ahrens, Emilia Alroy, Iris Alroy, Babalou, Linda Bernstein, Marion Bernstein, Max Billick, Asher Chinn, Ben Chinn, Sonia Daccarett, Rabbi Billy Dreskin, Dick Gentschel, Rabbi Glazer, Talya Glazer, Katherine Hollander, Scott Horwitz, Ilan Jacob, Ovid Jacob, Sidney Keith, Steve Miller, Irv Rothstein, Rosey Rothstein, Marcia Sohn, Norman Sohn, Tracy Swedlow, Elyssa Wortzman, Daniel Zilberman, Mark Zilberman

The Dreidel -- Unmasked!

PlayingDreidel_CBSFamilyPreschoolHanukkahLunch_December2015Hanukkah is over. For a few evenings, we'll gaze longingly at the counters, tables, and ledges where our hanukkiot so recently glowed...and then our attention will shift to family debates about which movie and Chinese restaurant is right for Christmas Day. Today, though, we hope to extend your Hanukkah glow for at least a few more minutes!

Along with hanukkiot, latkes, and sufganiyot, visions of dreidels spin through our heads when we think of Hanukkah. Why the association? Chabad's website explains:

"The dreidel, known in Hebrew as a sevivon, dates back to the time of the Greek-Syrian rule over the Holy Land -- which set off the Maccabean revolt that culminated in the [Hanukkah] miracle. Learning Torah was outlawed by the enemy, a 'crime' punishable by death. The Jewish children resorted to hiding in caves in order to study. If a Greek patrol would approach, the children would pull out their tops and pretend to be playing a game. By playing dreidel during Chanukah we are reminded of the courage of those brave children."

That's a familiar story -- it's what we've been told our whole lives. But it's also a myth, and one created long after the days of the Maccabees.

In fact, the dreidel is a variation on an Irish or English top that spread over all of Europe during the late Roman Empire. Known as a teetotum, each of these four-sided tops was inscribed with letters that denoted the result of a given spin. For example, the German version of the game used N (Nichts, or nothing), G (Ganz, or all), H (Halb, or half), and S (Stell ein, or put in).

Dreidels&Gelt_CBSFamilyPreschoolHanukkahLunch_December2015Across Europe, teetotum was most often played around Christmastime; the reason for this seasonal popularity remain unclear but, just like their neighbors, Ashkenazi Jews played the game at this time. Yet Jews adapted the tops' lettering for Yiddish speakers, replacing German letters with Hebrew ones: Nun (Nit, or nothing), Gimel (Gants, or everything), He (Halb, or half), and Shin (Shtel arayn, or put in).

Over generations, as the dreidel game was introduced to far-flung Jewish communities that didn't speak Yiddish, various explanations for the letters' significance were put forth. One of the most famous explications is that the letters represent the four kingdoms that tried to destroy Israelites/Jews: Nun for Nebuchadnezzar, or Babylon; He for Haman, or Persia; Gimel for Gog, or Greece; and Shin for Seir, or Rome. But the most popular story -- probably because it's the only one that explains why the dreidel game is primarily played in the month of Kislev -- posited that the letters stood for the phrase "Nes gadol haya sham," or "A great miracle happened there." That's the Hanukkah miracle, of course, and the accompanying myth about the clever ruse of brave little Torah scholars caught on, too.

Sometime in the 19th or 20th century (CE), this mythic origin of the dreidel game became the officially sanctioned account. It's a compelling, fun story for children, but the real history of the dreidel is no less remarkable.

Indeed, the most marvelous of Hanukkah miracles is an ongoing one: the ability of the Jewish people to adopt the customs and ideas of their neighbors -- just filtered through a Jewish lens. Consider how many of our "traditional" Jewish practices are variations of customs adopted from the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, or Romans. We often toast the fact that those four "evil empires" have fallen while the Jewish people live on -- Am Yisrael Chai! -- but, curiously and counter-intuitively, some facets of those cultures live on in our Jewish traditions.

Culture is a wonderfully complex cholent.

Why Is Gambling Associated With Hanukkah?

DreidelFor American Jews, it’s that time of the year again. Parents of young children are talking about "the December Dilemma,” Jewish a cappella groups are in overdrive, hanukkiot (Hanukkah menorahs) are being pulled out of deep storage, and we’re all drooling in anticipation of latkes, applesauce, and sour cream. Adam Sandler even wrote and performed a fourth version of his beloved “Hanukkah Song." That’s right, friends — Hanukkah 5776 is almost here!

This Sunday evening is the first night of Hanukkah, and a lot of us are planning holiday parties. In preparation, we’re in the market for extra dreidels…because, as Bryan Adams sung, it ain’t a Hanukkah party if the dreidel don’t spin ‘round (did I mishear that lyric?). Yet, although dreidels are considered de rigueur for Hanukkah parties, they typically don’t do a lot of spinning; they’re more often decorative, described by one clever writer as more “party favor than party favorite.”

Even relegated to a decorative role, the dreidel is a staple of Hanukkah. So how did a European gambling game called teetotum become associated with Hanukkah observance in the first place? We know that diaspora syncretism gave us the dreidel and that the rabbis later invented a backstory — the Israelites-played-dreidel-to-fool-the-Greeks-into-thinking-they-weren’t-studying-Torah myth — but why did they link the game with Hanukkah? The answer, it turns out, has to do with rabbinic attitudes about gambling and Hanukkah’s relationship to another minor holiday, Purim.

"C'mon, big money, big money! Papa needs a great miracle to happen here!"

Back in the day (the Mishnah’s day, that is), dice playing, pigeon racing, and other “games” of chance were popular betting activities that the rabbis viewed as inappropriate or unfortunate. So they debated how best to restrict or moderate the degenerate behavior. Different approaches were put forth, but it seems that the rabbis appreciated the need for occasional laxity or release, and the holidays of Hanukkah and Purim seemed like excellent times to look the other way.

Why?

Purim tells the story of the powerless Jews of Shushan defeating their Persian enemies against all odds. Metaphorically, Purim is understood as an overturning of the social order, a day when activities that were forbidden or discouraged the rest of the year were permitted. It’s observed as a carnival with excessive drinking, costumes (including cross-dressing), and, often, lotteries and raffles (gambling!). With the world turned upside down, why not roll the dice? After all, the Jews of Shushan made risky gambits that paid off!

The Hanukkah story isn’t so different, really, as the small-but-oh-so-zealous Maccabean force repels the great army of the Seleucid Greeks and reclaims the Temple. It’s another the deck-was-stacked-against-us tale.

The shared spirit of Hanukkah and Purim presents us with a compelling justification for why gambling is associated with both holidays -- but this is mostly conjecture. There is also an explanation put forth by historical sociologists who insist that the Yiddish version of teetotum, which was especially popular at Christmastime in Germany, was played by a lot of Ashkenazim in December and therefore became attached to Hanukkah by virtue of the Christian and Jewish holidays' proximity to one another. Although this is almost certainly the most accurate account, it doesn’t negate the valuable symbolism of the world-turned-upside-down concept.

So, this year, sure, most of the attendees of your Hanukkah party will be more into playing Exploding Kittens than the dreidel game. And that’s fine…but we encourage you to play both. Buy those dreidels. Spin those dreidels. Bet on those dreidels. Then ask all the players to donate part or all of their winnings as tzedakah — it’s tax-deduction time, anyway!