Sending Candy to Iran: My new Video for Purim

Today is the Fast of Esther, honoring a heroine’s courage – but tomorrow is the feast celebrating her success and our survival. I will focus on the art of goody-bag exchange for friends and foes alike. (Thanks Bibi! Working on a couple of goody bags for my Iranian friends as well) 


Why: Check out my  2 min. new video created by JTS on the power of purim’s gift exchange and why this year I’m not masking or wigging but sharing comfort food instead.

You’re in NYC? Join me downtown: 

Lab/Shul teams up with the Education Alliance’s Project ORE on PURIM DAY, March 5 for a PURIM PIZZA & TEA PARTY. Project ORE is an amazing community center for low-income, homeless and formerly homeless Jewish seniors.

Wishing us all a collective feast of friendship, less fear, more love.










Purim 2015: Focus on the Goody Bag Exchange.


Purim was always my favorite. Ever since I can remember it’s been about finding the perfect costume and becoming, just for one day, another – maybe better – version of me.

As a kid I’d get going on the costume research as soon as the High Holy Days were over. Only later did I learn that there is deep mystical and psychic wisdom in this annual permission to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and connect to oneself’s deepest essence only through the topsy-turvy hide and seek of this holy messy day of masks and mischief.imgres

I’ve had some crazy costumes over the years. Childhood choices gave way to teen and early adult disdain, but eventually I found my way back to the art of masking, with drag playing a big part on purim – and then year round…

For the last two years my drag persona wanted a break, which I continue to respect. But it made Purim into a challenge – who am I without her?  (Hadassah will be back, thank you for your patience…she is still inside the Dead Sea, trying to save God)

Meanwhile, this Purim meets me as a mourner, observing  a year of honoring my father’s death. Noisy Purim parties don’t feel right at all, let alone high heels and makeup. Maybe, to my mom’s relief, I am finally growing up?

But I have a plan. Purim isn’t just about becoming other. Its’ original and primary action is about us taking care of one another. The four requirements for Purim are to recite the Scroll of Esther, attend a festive feast, perform hands-on charity, and exchange of goody-bags between friends and neighbors.

The costume thing came way way later.

And it’s the fourth requirement that I am focusing on this year – inviting the Lab/Shul community -wherever you are –  to join me in upgrading this delicious and important sacred action of food exchange.Purim-costumes

Mishloach Manot is what this is called in Hebrew. It’s actually a Persian tradition, adopted by the local Jews as a way of sharing edible treats and enforcing lesser tangible bonds of friendship with one’s neighbors and friends.  This tradition is first mentioned in the Esther Scroll – marking the relief of the Jewish population that survived (let’s say it happened as is) another planned pogrom:

‘They declared it a day of joy  and feasting, a holiday for generations, and they sent  food portions one to another.’ Esther 9:19

As a kid, decked up as my cousin Rachel, or Dr. Dolittle, or a troubadour – I’d walk around our neighborhood with other family members, decorated paper plates in hands, delivering homemade jams and strawberries dipped in chocolate and mini-bar bottles from one house to another, meeting costumed friends along the way and coming back home hours later with a whole new selection of treats and a very full stomach. This is what community looks like. And I miss it a lot and I want it back.

According to the Jewish Law, every Jew over the age of 13 should send a food gift on Purim consisting of at least two different types of food to at least one recipient.

And also – these goody bags are not sent to a mourner although mourners are obligated to send mishloach manot themselves – as long as it’s not too elaborate. (A generally good rule..)

So here’s this year’s Purim Plan, a few options:

PLAN AHEAD Go online to MOUTH, pick just 2 people you want to share a treat with.  MentionLABSHULPURIM at checkout  to get 20% off!  (Offer ends March 5 at midnight)shop_logo

ROLL YOUR OWN: Go all out – think of who you want to share some delicacies – then plan and prep a super bag, complete with treats that will make em happy and maybe a poem or a quote? Think of sharing these with people whom you love – and/or could use some love – or snacks.   Most important –  hand deliver

PACKAGING: You DO get points for packaging. Check out this DIY ORIGAMI PURIM BASKETTUTORIAL – super easy and cool to make.

PARTY WITH ME  this purim day! And share a goody bag with folks who will really appreciate it:

Lab/Shul’s Purim Pizza & Tea Party @ PROJECT ORE

Everybody-friendly purim pizza  tea party with The Educational Alliance’s Project ORE, a community center for homeless and formerly homeless Jewish seniors.

Come with a goody bag or two (containing kosher and vegetarian treats only) to share with others, enjoy live music, stories and secrets with Amichai, Naomi and the Lab/Shul line up of artists and guests, get hands-on with arts creativity stations for all ages, eat treats, make new friends and make folks really happy.?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Thursday March 5, 4:00-7:00pm

Project ORE, 331 East 12th Street

Free, bring a goody bag gift or two for exchange! (veg/Kosher)  RSVP



Esau Mask for Halloween: First Super hairy Jew to Wish he Wasn’t (Jewish)? Unscrolled #6, featuring Foer

Unscrolling: This year I’m reading the weekly Torah portion through the eyes of 54 creative wrestlers in Reboot’s new book Unscrolled. My year long journey will be blogged weekly as commentary on their commentary, quoting quotes, plucking pearls from this pool of biblically inspired juices for a more inspired now.

He’s a hairy hunter, redhead, scratch golfer, ice Skater, tasseled loafers, class ring, eggnog dripping from bushy mustache Jew. And he’s on JDATE.
Meet Esau: First and ultimate GoyJew.
Joshua Foer calls him “the first Jew to wish he wasn’t.”
How’s that for a Halloween costume?
Foer’s unscrolled #6, Toldot,  zooms in,  with what I think is more than just affection – on the first firstborn of Isaac, who ends up married three shikasas to become the brother who turned other. Eventually an enemy. But wait a minute. Must it be so??  Foer’s version of Esau feels like family, including the familiar dysfunction –  and he’s certainly  a familiar figure in the life of modern (Jewish) America: the Jew that got away.  Esau the disengaged and/or assimilated Jew features large, if nameless, in all recent surveys and studies that lament the numerical decline of American Jewry.
Esau is unloved by Jews since the days of the Bible. From Isaiah to Heschel, poets and rabbis linked his lineage to mortal enemies:  Roman Empire, Vatican, Haman, Hitler.
But Foer’s 2013 Esau is the goy next door, who’s really Jewish (Paula Abdul? really?) but not really into it, or sort of is but vaguely and with Christmas tree, and s/he is in our beds and boardrooms and family trees and speedials and hearts. Esau is us. A lot of us anyway.
Esau is family. Enough with the fighting already. Welcome home.
(Maybe college campuses should have Esau Clubs celebrating hyphenated identities and co-sponsored by the NRA but secretly funded by Hillel?)
Inspired by Foer, I think I’ll go as Esau for Halloween this year. Not NRA outfit exactly, but something very goyish, non rabbinic, red, fur, celebrating  this o most pagan of holy days with almost as much relish as its spring sister holiday – Purim. Halloween is a dress rehearsal to the more spiritually complicated Purim in which Esau as Haman is annually hung and reviled but through masks and intoxication we get to actually love him again and forget who’s good and bad and get over it and try to be united again, with all the voices in our head and life.
I’m thinking top hat and furs and maybe some sexy. Masking self and becoming briefly something different than my daily to dance with other selves, other voices, an other turned brother inside me, sinister sister, a chance to turn things upside down in the ultimate hope of lesser divides. Goy style.
Walk a night in Esau’s boots or loafers to remember what it feels like to be both twins, again. Jacob was the first to try that… The voice of Jacob and the hands of Esau.  Welcome home, bro. Trick AND treat.

Unmasking Jewish Racism: Word 21

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.








Purim was fantastic in Jerusalem. I made my own lionesque mask from strips of leather, to wear at one of the parties and dance, unknown. It turned out to be a bit more scary than sexy.. But it was an important lesson: another version of me peeped through the eyes, rougher and raw. Something here needs to be explored and worked out. Something about rage. And it turns out, it wasn’t just me. Behind the collective mask of Purim in Israel a terrible face was revealed, again this year: A racist, hateful, ancient and aggressive Jew.


Now that the hangover is over and the masks are put away, the truth, as painful as it is, demands the clarity of sober reflection.  What lurks below this surface is murky and dangerous – and very real. I’ll deal with my own shadow work in therapy.. But the greater collective shadow looms larger and troubling.


Who’s beneath the masks?



It started on the Shabbat before Purim, as Sara-Rose became a Bat Mitzvah.  At a small makeshift Orthodox congregation, she chanted from the Torah scroll – at a separate reading for women only – I peeked in the back. She was smiling and confident, in an Oscar worthy purple dress, voicing the words that are reserved for this annual pre purim reminder: ‘Annhilate the Memory of Amalek – do not forget.’


As is the custom, everybody rose to their feet when she started chanting – committed by law to remembrance of the mortal enemy of yore and to its demise.  The Biblical narrative about Amalek  – the obscure Semitic tribe that attacked the fleeing Hebrews from Egypt for no apparent reason – is later linked to Haman and the long historical legacy of anti semitism and persecutions. “Never Forget” came way before the Holocaust – a tribal war cry that gave our ancestors perspective, and hope. For many centuries, as our people suffered as minorities, power, revenge and annihilation were but a matter of  collective fantasy. On Purim, venting the steam, we let loose our fear and hate of other with every round of grogger.


But now we got power. And with each Purim I wonder about the role of this old war cry, and the price we pay for its presence in our lives as we stand up to retell this story.


I stayed seated. I’m uncomfortable with this built-in obligation to fear and destroy. I get the sacred luggage of our memory, the value of honoring our past, including the pain.  We have to be watchful and not delirious and hippy-ish peace at all costs defeatists.  But somehow this Torah, along with the brutal Purim Megila, brings up something really old and I think – very wrong.

I dont think it’s our real truth – it is some terrible mask that we forgot to take off.



But not everybody thinks so.

For many, this time of year,  the Biblical commandment to destroy another race is translated into racist violence.


This Purim marked the 19th anniversary of the massacre in Hebron, when Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli doctor, settler and  member of the far-right Kach movement, shot dead 29 unarmed Palestinian men who were praying at the Cave of the Patriarchs.  His suicide note made it clear that he was motivated by the Purim command to blot out Amalek, which he, and now more, identified as Arabs and/or Palestinians.


I can say with certainty that Purim 94 changed my life – and I know it did so for many others.  I realized on that day that underneath the frivolity of the carnival and the joy of community celebration peek our biggest skeletons and secrets –  waiting for an honest face to face, for encounters with our own most often repressed violence.


It’s not so repressed anymore.


This past Sunday night, in Tel Aviv, a group of drunk youth, in costumes,  attacked an Arabic man who was on duty cleaning the streets. He was beaten with glass bottles and rushed to the hospital.

The next day, in Jerusalem, an Arabic woman was attacked  in broad daylight by a few drunk Jewish women and other bystanders, her head covering was ripped off, amid slurs and beatings. There’s still confusion about what happened here, and these are isolated cases – but they are no longer rare.



No masks were worn at either attacks but everybody involved in it was wearing one if they liked it or not: Arab, Jew, Victim, Other, Threat, Fear.



The attackers didn’t see people – they saw masks, cartoons, Amalek.

The attacked saw attackers who attached for no reason. Amalek.


Below the masks we’re the same.


And that’s the problem with masks – they only reveal a fraction of the truth. And the truth is that we are all connected in many many more ways that we can imagine. Those who act our violence do so because they are deluded, they see the outer so called masks and miss the bigger picture, over and over again.



We’ve been here before, in mask mentality. It happened  when we created, as a nascent nation, our first collective mask.



In this week’s Torah text Ki Tisa, the Hebrews yearn for leadership, security, and God. In the absence of this comforting presence they create a substitute deity and confuse it with the greater abstract mystery which is all life.  The Golden Calf, our first communal Jewish project turned false idol –  is referred to in these verses, according to some translations, as ‘the calf mask’.


Aaron made it – mask of a calf ; and they said: ‘This is your god, O Israel…’

Masks can be a problem when they blur the face of truth and create alienation.
The Golden Calf became a problem because it was a mask that obscured the faceless face of the Divine – found in every living thing, within the eyes  of each and every other person. Instead of a unifying force it created alienation.
The urge that got the Hebrews to form and dance around a hallunciation that gave them security is a real, important, precious urge. The need of some people to strength their sense of self by demonizing others is understood. But masks are not to be confused with what’s real.
And we sometimes need to wear the mask in order to remember what we really look like from within. And that we are, truly, always one.
That’s the real message of Purim. No Israel or Amalek. Haman and Mordechai. All is one. A hard lesson to learn. What do we do with the pain, with the rage?
I took off my lion mask when it was no longer who I yearned to be that night. I wanted warmth, not alienation. The mask will need to be revised.
Our larger masks, fears and scars that have defined us very essence, are more difficult to remove.
But maybe we can pause, and take a long look in the mirror, before packing the masks away for another year, with these news of beatings in our face, and know that we have work to do, and what to heal, so that this violence is studied, stopped. That young girls in party frocks may chant another version of our story on the days they come of age, and what we choose to remember are not just the fears of what happened, and that we are truly all connected, and remember the  courage to  love. Without the masks of fear.
Shabbat Shalom.


Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999.

Worship Wear Gone Wrong. And Masks? Word #20.

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.



Holy Wear

בגדי קודש


This past week a lot of Jewish drama around  sacred fabrics that one dons or doesn’t  where and why and by whom or not. The Pope’s Prada pales next to the volume of coverage on the Women of the Wall’s continued fight for freedom to pray and wear shawls and I’m honored to be helpful in the televising of the revolution, to no doubt a noble resolution up ahead. For me this week provided a weird twist on the wearing of this sacred shawl – with plenty reasons to  pause and ponder the power and politics of religious wear.

My personal prayer shawl saga continued curiously from the Western Wall to my brother’s synagogue in the heart of Jerusalem’s Greek Colony. Last week I smuggled  prayer shawls into the Western Wall and wore mine there in a baffling privileged act of defiance. Here at my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, the youngest son of the much beloved rabbi in this bustling Modern Orthodox congregation, I wasn’t actually expected, as in, supposed to, wear a prayer shawl at all.

In my family’s custom – Mainstream Ashkenazi, unwed men don’t typically wear a prayer shawl. At 43, even as rabbinic student and 3 kids later, my wearing one at shul in the immediate circle of my family of origin’s Orthodox context – is an eyebrow raiser, a breach of protocol. Not a big deal but still.  O well. I don’t remember when I first starting wrapping myself in prayer shawls – ones that I’ve made. 15 years, at least. But rarely back on the family turf…There have been events in the past years, family reunion weekend or a Shiva minyan in which, wrapped in one, I  got some comments from the more pious and tactless- but I’m not sure that it was just because I had one on or because my usual prayer shawl is a recycled beige Sari with gold brown silk patches, a work of art with one red string attached to the fringes – a gift of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. THAT gets a lot of comments.

I stand out with or without it. A thin veil over who I am within the black and white prayer shawl world of my childhood. And sometimes one doesn’t want to stand out so much..

So I wasn’t sure whether I should come to this Bar Mitzvah with my shawl or not.

And also because I forgot to iron it. Just a few weeks ago, back at ye Western Wall, as the family gathered super early in the cold morning for my Bar Mitzvah nephew’s first wrapping of Tefilin – my mother looked at me through the crack in the fence that separated us and pointed at my shawl and made a face. Later she advised me to try ironing it better or better yet, getting a newer one – “it just doesn’t look very dignified. May have had its day”.

So I went without my prayer shawl that morning, but in each hand held a child’s hand instead. Ezra on the right and Alice on the left, on a sweet short visit from NY with Sally, one of their two moms. As we walk over to the synagogue  I explain to the kids, 6 and 4, that unlike our shul back in NY, in this shul the men and women sit separately, and they can take turns being with Mommy upstairs, or Abba downstairs, and we can play and hang outside. We get there just before my nephew starts to beautifully chant the Torah, and both sections are jam-packed. So we head to the courtyard where the candy tables for later are heavily guarded and a kids service is starting, led by a few of the dads. And just before we sit in the circle I get this craving for a prayer shawl – this total sense that I want to be wrapped in one as I sit here on the grass, with my children, at a prayer service with mostly people I don’t know but who in some part, today, are  family and extended family and congregation. And whatever custom – it’s what made sense.

From the rack in the back I borrow a regular, formerly white wool full length prayer shawl with black stripes and yellowed fringes and wrap it around my shoulders, and kid in each hand, enter the mens’ section in a little step that somehow meant a whole lot more. It’s not like ‘I passed’ or ‘belonged’ but more like I played a part in a play with just the right outfit and felt just right. A costume? perhaps.  Religious wear that felt just right.

On our way out a few minutes later, one of my nephews stops me, smiling – what’s with the boring talit? you’re not going ortho are you…

You can’t win. or maybe I just did?

The power and the politics of holy wear go back a long long time. In this week’s Torah text, Tetzave, the instructions for construction of the tabernacle detail on – including the religious fashion department – and every detail matter, as Moses finds out:

“make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for splendor and  beauty.” Ex.28

The priestly collection which is described here in Vogeuesque detail, inspired later, post-temple  sages to sanctify the worship-wear for all, and not just for the sons of Aaron. What was once the privileged costume of one (male) leader, became, with time, the symbolic vestments of all, or of most of us, till recent times. The prayer shawls, like the Torah dress, are our modern priestly vestments, and all of us – single or married, male or not – are our modern priests. 

Prayer shawl or beanie or burka or bow tie: Here’s to the right to wear what we wish, as we, hopefully, choose to honor our existence with the garments that make us feel like we belong, more special, sacred, beautiful and ourselves, wrapped within our flimsy truths, and truly wrapped in comfort. 

And then there’s Purim, coming up this wknd, a chance to change and put on briefly any thing you want, shawl or mask and shoes of others, Michelle’s bangs or Sarah’s dress, upturn politics of yes or no, taboos and boos, put on the masks we don’t dare wear every other day, enter like High Priest Aaron into the Holy of Holies of Self, like Queen Esther into the royal chamber of possibilities, possibly against the law of the land, wrapped in beauty and in nothing more than one thin and sacred shawl. 

Wrap it to go. 

Shabbat Shalom

Perfectly Purim!


Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999.