Jerusalem-style Purim celebrations!

Anywhere in the world, Purim is observed on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar. However, it is celebrated a day later in Jerusalem because Jerusalem falls under the rules connected to a “walled city” in our holy books.

And so, on Wednesday evening and Thursday, March 6 and 7, costumes, parades, festive meals and parties occurred around Jerusalem.

Non-Jews, often compare Purim to Mardi Gras or Halloween because of its connection to dressing in costume and boundless merriment. But it is pretty different. It is a profoundly spiritual and meaningful Jewish holiday with material and spiritual components.

Most people are aware of the material aspects. It is celebrated by young and old with enthusiasm and delight, the wearing of costumes, performing ad-hoc plays, exchanging gifts of food, shelach-manot/the sending of portions, and all this is followed by a festive family meal, a seudah, in the late afternoon before the end of the holiday.

The spiritual aspect is connected to the Hebrew reading of the Megillah, which tells the story of Purim. Women have a special connection to Purim as listening to the main text of Purim, the Megillah, is one of the few commandments incumbents on women, and of course, the heroine of the text, Queen Esther, is a woman.

The Megillah can be chanted in synagogues or private homes and is repeated many times so that everyone can conveniently participate in listening to the chanting.

This year I attended the evening Megillah reading at Simhat Shlomo, my previous Yeshiva in Nahlaot, close to the Jerusalem open-air market, the shuk. The shuk was wild, with all the stalls open, selling their usual wares, Purim masks, and goodies. And restaurants blaring music and people jostling and dancing into the night. Here is a small insight into the festivities as you enter the shuk.

Jerusalem market

Some merriment intruded on a cell phone service store at a Jerusalem mall where I happened to be.Purim celebration inside the mall in Jerusalem I also took some videos inside the Yeshiva at the time of the megillah reading. So here we are, getting into the spirit of Purim.

We were all gathered, men, women and children waiting for our megillah reader, Rabbi Leibish Hundert, and amusing ourselves with stories and singing.

Megillah reading at Simhat Shlomo_Photo 4 Megillah reading at Simhat Shlomo_Photo 3 Megillah reading at Simhat Shlomo_Photo 2 Megillah reading at Simhat Shlomo_Photo 1

And then Leibish began the megillah reading.

In the afternoon, I was invited to join my nephew, niece, and their family to join their friends and have a shared seudah.

shared seudah

If you are interested in more Purim Torah, I refer you to my previous blog on What Purim Can Teach Us Today.



Shabbat in Jerusalem

For my first Shabbat Eretz Yisrael, the Holy Land of Israel, I was invited to my nephew’s home in Kiryat Menachem, a fast-growing suburb in the hills of Jerusalem. Local train service is about to be extended here and is almost ready to open, and cranes for high-rises are everywhere. But the community of Kiryat Menahem still meets the criteria for a fifteen-minute city, where most amenities can be reached on foot. It is also an older settlement built into the mountainsides and has preserved green spaces all around, including proximity to Shvil Yisrael, the Israel Trail that runs the country’s length. So on Shabbat afternoon, we walked there and revelled in the Jerusalem spring flowers sprouting in the wild.

Israel National Trail - Shvil Yisrael

During Shabbat, the children could showcase their costumes for the upcoming holiday of Purim. Our seven-year-old, Eitam, decided he would be the Saba, the grandfather who gives out candy to children during Shabbat services, a familiar figure in synagogues worldwide. Eitam was eager to acquire his grandfather’s cane and a bag of sweets from the local store to hand out. Our eleven-year-old, Yehudit, wanted to dress up as her teacher. Her teacher had offered her a choice of dresses, a purse, a pair of glasses, and even her wig. Yehudit’s transformation from an eleven-year-old to a thirty-five-year-old was remarkable and so much fun!

My second Shabbat was spent in my new apartment in my new neighbourhood of Katamon. Katmon is a typical residential part of Jerusalem outside the walled portion called “the old city.” Jerusalem construction is distinguished by the pink Jerusalem stone that is, by law, used in most buildings. Here is my street; the stone garden fences are in the distinctive pink Jerusalem stone.

Abigail Hirsch's street in Jerusalem

And here is a quick tour of my tiny apartment and the indoor-outdoor space created by the enclosed balcony.

Abigal Hirch's apartment

Around 3 pm, one sees a lot of traffic of children and their caretakers of both genders. I took these photos around that time.

Abigail Hirch's neighbourhood

My next-door neighbour, Joyce, who had made aliyah from Toronto just before the pandemic, brought me some delicious fresh baked challah which she had made herself, and I bought cooked food from one of the many outlets catering to the Shabbat crowd.

Night street in Jerusalem

My neighbourhood has many functioning large and small synagogues and a Chabad House Synagogue. I was told that this Chabad had a public lunch after services on Shabbat but no Friday night communal meal. I went to Chabad for the Friday night services and was walking home alone along a dark street. I noticed a group of people in the middle of the road, engaged in animated conversation and thought little of it. But then, all of a sudden, one of them addressed me by name. It turned out that there was someone who knew me in this group. It was the broker whose mother’s apartment I had just bought. She recognized me, and when she realized I was in the neighbourhood for the first time, she invited me to join them for supper and lunch the following day!

On my way to the synagogue the following day, I passed a school with abundant children pouring in. I entered, and a little girl pointed me to the adult service, where I discovered a woman giving the Sabbath talk in an Orthodox prayer service!

I continued to Chabad, and during the post-services kiddush, I sat next to two English-speaking women who had lived in Jerusalem and Israel for many years. One was visiting her in-laws, who had immigrated to Israel from Los Angeles, and the other woman, who was divorced, had just moved back to the neighbourhood and shared that she was building a sound studio in her closet and starting a new career. As we chatted, it turned out that all three of us had lived on Lake Street in White Plains, NY, for almost the same period many years ago.

What a fantastic world!



Spring in Israel

I arrived in Israel on March 2nd from Montreal and have met amazing people at every turn.

Jerusalem city view from plane window

On the plane, I sat next to a young Ukrainian man from Odesa who had been living and working in Prague for the last year. He shared with me that he asked his employer for a transfer and managed with some difficulty to get through the Russian border to Czechoslovakia, and he has been living and working in Prague for over a year. He was on his way to visit his cousins in Tel Aviv.

Next to him was a woman thumbing a well-worn Bible, a Christian woman from Switzerland reading up on places mentioned in the bible, which she was eager to experience firsthand. I shared some information about places to visit, and she invited me to see her in Switzerland. We exchanged contacts, and I was able to have a meal with her and her companions in Jerusalem a week later.

Sherut taxi

On the Sherut, the communal taxi which takes about ten people at a time from the airport directly to their destination, I sat next to an American woman with a baby, returning from a wedding in Montreal, whose husband is teaching at one of the Yeshivas in Jerusalem. Next to her was an Israeli neurobiologist educator, Orit Elgavi-Hershler, returning from her book launch in Tel Aviv. I took a picture of her book, which she had with her, and both of us began to ply her with questions about her subject, the latest methods for dealing with autism, schizophrenia etc.

Neuropedagogia Where souls and education meet

Neuropedagogia: Where souls and education meet

But, the biggest miracle was about to unfold as I disembarked from the sherut minibus and was standing on the sidewalk of this narrow street with my two oversized suitcases, plus two big carry-ons; a woman stopped her car, parked it on my side of the sidewalk, got out of her car, and came over to me to ask me if I needed help with my suitcases!

Jerusalem street

I don’t know if this happens anywhere else in the world. It occurred to me as I arrived at my new apartment in Jerusalem, the Holy City.



Heroes: Then and Now

In general, each of the Five Books of Moses and all the weekly Torah portions read in the synagogue are named after the first significant word of the book. For example, Shemot (Names in English) is the first important word in the first sentence of the Book of Exodus.

“These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt. (Exodus CH 1:V 1) Eleh Shemot bnai Yisrael…

Despite this simple explanation, many have sought to interpret the significance of the specific appellation. Rabbi Shipell of Lockdown Univerity shared this one recently.*1

Some in the Book of Exodus are named, but many more are referred to anonymously.

A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son.” (Exodus ch 2 v 1-2)

Although many are referred to anonymously, their mission is no less significant. If they had not each performed their specific tasks, as our Passover Haggadah text states, “we, and our children, and our children’s children would still be slaves in Egypt.”

Among the first persons named explicitly in the text are the Egyptian midwives to the Hebrews, Shifra and Puah. These two women’s acts may be the world’s first recorded historical narrative of civil disobedience.

Now the king of Egypt spoke to the Egyptian midwives, one who was named Shifrah, and the second, who was named Puah. And he said, “When you deliver the Hebrew women, and you see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall put him to death, but if it is a daughter, she may live.” (Exodus 1:17-21)

But the midwives did not follow the Pharoh’s demands.

The midwives, however, feared God, so they did not do as the king of Egypt had spoken to them, but they enabled the boys to live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said, “Why have you done this thing that you have enabled the boys to live?”

Another character who disobeyed the Pharoh’s immoral decrees was the Pharoh’s daughter.

Pharaoh and the Midwives

Pharaoh and the Midwives, James Tissot c. 1900

Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe in the Nile, and her maidens were walking along the Nile, and she saw the basket in the midst of the marsh, and she sent her maidservant, and she took it. She opened it, and she saw him, the child, and behold, he was a weeping lad, and she had compassion on him, and she said, “This is one of the children of the Hebrews.” (Exodus Ch 2 v 5-6)

This is the origin story of how Moses was saved from death and named and adopted by the Egyptian princess. Interestingly, Phaproh’s daughter is not named here, but she is the one who called the baby Moses, and this is the name by which he is known to this day!

She named him Moses, and she said, “For I drew him from the water” (min hamayim mishitihu). (Exodus Ch 2 v 10)

Pharaoh’s daughter finds Moses in the Nile (1886 painting by Edwin Long)

Modern Day Heros

It is now seventy-eight years since the defeat of the Nazis in WWll, and every day I learn about many hitherto anonymous people who were so significant to achieving that victory, some of them Jewish, many of them not. 

One of these liberators I recently learned about is the remarkable Portuguese-born double agent Juan Pujol García, who single-handedly decided in the early 1930s that Hitler had to be defeated. He managed to avoid conscription to Franco’s fascist army but was determined to pursue his goal of defeating Hitler and his forces. So he decided to pass himself off as a devoted Nazi in Spain. He began to send reports to Germany based on available information. He was so convincing that the Nazis enlisted him to go to Britain to enlist other double agents. Once in England, he ingeniously created a fictitious non-existent network of English double agents complete with code names and reports throughout the war. The English decoders of Nazi communications discovered what he was doing and then enlisted him formally to work for the Engish spy network, MI-6.

As MI-6 called him, Agent Garbo succeeded in deceiving the German high command several times in the allies’ favour. With the covert help of MI-6, he created a field of realistic-looking, blown-up balloon tanks and rows of planes set to go, which were photographed and sent to the German High Command. With these pictures, Agent Garbo convinced the German High Command that the invasion would be at Calais, not Normandy. He is genuinely one of the spies about whom it could be said if not for him, the war may have gone very differently. He was successful in his mission and lived to tell the tale and write his memoir, Operation GARBO: the personal story of the most successful double agent of World War II, on Jan. 1, 1985, by Juan Pujol & Nigel West.

Joan Pujol Garcia

Juan Pujol García as a conscript, 1931

Thousands of others like Juan Pujol García are only now being discoverethatnd children took it upon themselves not to for him do the right thing.

Another hero I discovered as I watched the recent movie, Simone, Woman of the Century, is Simone Veil.

Simone Veil

Simone Veil in Deauville, May 31, 1988.

The story of Veil’s life is seen from her joyful upbringing in a secular Jewish family to her arrest and deportation to Auschwitz, the day she received her high school diploma and her post-war accomplishments: – marrying and raising a family, acquiring a French law degree and serving in the French government and managing to alleviate the plight of prisoners of war, chronic drug users,  achieving legal abortion rights in a Catholic country, and becoming the first president of the European Parliament, the EU, to finally avoid the wars that have torn Europe apart for hundreds of years.

I have often considered the line Marc Antony spoke in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

It seems to me that it is just the opposite, “the good that men do lives on and remains with us for all generations to record and recall.”



*1 Rabbi Shipell of Lockdown University gives a weekly seminar on the Torah portion of the week on Lockdown Univerity. To subscribe, contact Lockdown University Staff at


Does Cosmology Matter?

I have been a constant CBC listener. My radio is on almost 24 hours as I find it good company even at night.

One morning, the radio program CBC-Ideas*1 began with someone reading The Huarochirí Manuscript, one of the few surviving records of the Quechua, a tribe in the Andes of Peru, in a language I had never heard before.

The Huarochirí Manuscript

Francisco de Vila, a Catholic Munk, compiled this document in the late 1500s in order to “eliminate idolatries” among conquered South American peoples. It was hidden for many years in a monastery in Spain and was only recently discovered. Scholars point out that it now serves as a tool for reviving and recreating Andean metaphysics that are quite different from our own. For example, one of its narratives places the past in front of us and the future behind us.

What do we learn from such documents?

We learn that people in the 16th century in Peru or 1500 BC in Egypt were not all that different. Each society had a view of how the world works and man’s role in it. And language is the tool that man uses to articulate these worldviews.

The Book of Exodus is also one of these seminal books that lays bare the cosmology of the Jewish God and the Jewish people.

Christian Pastor Chuck Swindall *2 reviews the book’s theme.

The overall theme of Exodus is redemption—how God delivered the Israelites and made them His special people. After He rescued them from slavery, God provided the Law, which gave instructions on how the people could be consecrated or made holy. He established a system of sacrifice, which guided them in appropriate worship behaviour. Just as significantly, God provided detailed directions on the building of His tabernacle, or tent. He intended to live among the Israelites and manifest His shekinah glory (Exodus 40:34–35)—another proof that they were indeed His people.

The Mosaic Covenant, unveiled initially through the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), provides the foundation for the beliefs and practices of Judaism, from common eating practices to complex worship regulations. Through the Law, God says that all of life relates to God. Nothing is outside His jurisdiction.

If I had to summarize it in my own words, I would say that the theme of the Book of Exodus is there to teach us about Jewish cosmology, how Jews interpret the world and understand G-d’s role in human affairs.

An essential character in the Book of Exodus is the Jewish G-d. G-d introduces himself, first, to Moses at the burning bush and tells him that He has heard the cries of the Hebrews and is sending Moses to get them out. G-d also shares his various names with Moses, and when Moses hesitates and says: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should take the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus Ch.3 v11). God responds, “For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (Exodus Ch. 3 v 12)

Later in the book, G-d introduces himself to the entire people as they stand at Mount Sinai, beginning with the word “anochi.” 

I – anochi – am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  (Exodus Ch 20 v 2)

And then comes the decalogue in the text (Exodus C. 20 v.3 -14) known in Hebrew as the “ten utterances” – “aseret hadibrot” – as the Mountain trembles with smoke and fire and the sound of the shofar.

So we have a G-d *3, who hears and sees, is compassionate and interested in justice and gives us a code of behaviour to create a world of justice and compassion “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” *4

Moses on Mount Sinai

Moses on Mount Sinai, by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1895–1900

This is Jewish cosmology! Jewish cosmology is not interested in the physical characteristics of the world in and of itself but solely in man’s fate and God’s role in that fate. The Torah’s deep narrative structure is there to teach us about the Jewish God and His relationship to Israel, to Man and to all creation. 

The morning after I listened to The Huarochirí Manuscript, there was another CBC-Ideas program*5 that reveals how pseudo-archaeology has been applied to promote political and cultural agendas and the points at which it spills over into the creation of religious myths.

We learn that in the bookstores of the sixties, those of the flower children, and those of the far right, both are populated by invented mythologies, filled with conspiracy theories about how the world was created etc.

Invaders from Mars? Alligators? All of these elaborate ideologies are written down in books, and some have been seen in popular tv productions like the Twilight Zone. Both the alt-right and the far-left use these books to create their alternate visions of what’s wrong with the world and how to repair it.

Myths about Jews and blacks and the superior white race abound. A person who lived in this alternate reality has also created a podcast about his experience and bears powerful witness to the truth that in the absence of a clear cosmology, people will create one to feel grounded and safe in the world.

Cosmologies form the bases for political parties and for wars and guide all human history.



*1 CBC-Ideas, The Huarochirí Manuscriptaired Feb 6, 2023
*2 Chuck Swindoll’s overview of Exodus from his classic series God’s Masterwork,
*3 G-d, Jews spell God’s Name this way while writing about God to avoid “taking God’s Name in vain” (the third of the Ten Commandments).
*4 On Earth as it is in Heaven, Mathew 6:10, The Lord’s Prayer
*5 CBC-Ideas unearths of how pseudo-archaeology has been used to advance political and cultural ideas and where it crosses from pseudo-science to religious myth-making—aired Feb 7, 2023.