Jerusalem-style Purim celebrations!

Purim observed globally on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar, takes on a unique twist in Jerusalem. Due to its classification as a “walled city” in sacred texts, the celebration in Jerusalem unfolds a day later than elsewhere.

On the evenings of Wednesday and Thursday, March 6 and 7, the vibrant spirit of Purim manifested in costumes, parades, festive meals, and lively gatherings throughout the streets of Jerusalem.

While non-Jews may draw parallels between Purim and festivities like Mardi Gras or Halloween due to the shared theme of costumed revelry, the essence of Purim transcends mere merriment. This Jewish holiday is rooted in deep spiritual and meaningful traditions and encompasses material and spiritual dimensions.

The material celebration is a spectacle enjoyed by people of all ages, featuring enthusiastic participation in costume-wearing, impromptu plays, the exchange of food gifts known as shalach-manot, and culminating in a joyous family meal, a seudah in the late afternoon before the conclusion of the holiday.

The spiritual facet revolves around the Hebrew reading of the Megillah, narrating the Purim story. Notably, women hold a special connection to Purim, as listening to the Megillah is one of the few commandments specifically incumbent upon them. Queen Esther, the text’s heroine, further emphasizes women’s significance in this celebration.

The Megillah is chanted in synagogues or private homes, ensuring widespread participation in the communal listening experience. This year, I attended the evening Megillah reading at Simhat Shlomo, my former Yeshiva in Nahlaot, near the bustling Jerusalem open-air market, the shuk. The scene in the shuk was electrifying, with open stalls selling customary Purim masks and treats, restaurants resonating with music, and people dancing into the night. Here is a glimpse into the festive atmosphere upon entering the shuk.

The infectious merriment even infiltrated a cell phone service store in a Jerusalem mall where I happened to be.

Purim celebration inside the mall in JerusalemI seized the opportunity to record videos within the Yeshiva during the Megillah reading. Now, immersed in Purim’s vibrant spirit, we truly embrace the festive atmosphere.

A diverse assembly of men, women, and children eagerly gathered, anticipating the arrival of our Megillah reader, Rabbi Leibish Hundert. In the meantime, we entertained ourselves with lively tales and joyful 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

With anticipation in the air, Leibish commenced the Megillah reading.

In the afternoon, I received a gracious invitation to join my nephew, niece, and their family and friends for a communal Seudah, a festive meal.

shared seudah

For those seeking additional Purim Torah, I recommend exploring my earlier blog post, “What Purim Can Teach Us Today.”


Shabbat in Jerusalem

For my first Shabbat in Eretz Yisrael, the Holy Land of Israel, I was welcomed into my nephew’s home in Kiryat Menachem—a burgeoning suburb in Jerusalem’s hills. The anticipation of extended local train service, nearly ready to launch, and the omnipresent cranes signalling the rise of high-rises infused the air with the pulse of progress. Despite these modern developments, Kiryat Menahem retained its charm as a fifteen-minute city, where a stroll could lead to most amenities. Rooted in the mountainsides, this older settlement also boasted preserved green spaces and easy access to Shvil Yisrael, the Israel Trail tracing the country’s length. A leisurely Shabbat afternoon walks along the trail immersed us in the vibrant hues of Jerusalem’s spring flowers, flourishing in the wild.

Throughout Shabbat, the children animatedly paraded their Purim costumes. Eitam, our seven-year-old, assumed the role of the Saba—the beloved grandfather who traditionally dispenses candy to children during Shabbat services in synagogues worldwide. Eagerly armed with his grandfather’s cane and a bag of sweets procured from a local store, Eitam enthusiastically embraced his role. Meanwhile, our eleven-year-old, Yehudit, chose to metamorphose into her teacher. Endowed with various choices—dresses, a purse, glasses, and even a wig—Yehudit’s transformation from eleven to thirty-five was remarkable and an exuberant source of amusement.

My subsequent Shabbat unfolded in my new abode within the Katamon neighbourhood—a quintessential residential enclave of Jerusalem situated beyond the confines of the “old city.” Characterized by the mandatory use of the pink Jerusalem stone in construction, Jerusalem’s distinctive architectural signature manifested in the pink stone garden fences lining my street.

Abigail Hirsch's street in Jerusalem

Take a quick tour of my tiny apartment, the harmonious blend of indoor and outdoor spaces facilitated through the enclosed balcony.

Abigal Hirch's apartment

At approximately 3 pm, there was a bustling flow of children and caregivers of all genders, and I captured these photos during that lively period.

Abigail Hirch's neighbourhood

Joyce, my next-door neighbour, who had recently made aliyah from Toronto just before the pandemic, graciously gifted me a batch of her delicious homemade challah. In addition to that, I decided to indulge in some cooked food from a local eatery catering to the Shabbat crowd.

Our neighbourhood boasts many large and small synagogues, including the Chabad House Synagogue. While learning about Chabad’s post-service lunch tradition on Shabbat, I attended their Friday night services. On my solitary walk home through a dimly lit street, I encountered a group of people engrossed in conversation in the middle of the road. To my surprise, one of them addressed me by name. It was the broker whose mother’s apartment I had just bought. Recognizing me in the neighbourhood for the first time, she warmly invited me to join them for supper and lunch the next day.

The following day, en route to the synagogue, I passed a school teeming with children. Upon entering, a little girl directed me to the adult service, where I discovered a woman delivering the Sabbath talk in an Orthodox prayer service.

Later, at Chabad’s post-services kiddush, I sat beside two English-speaking women with extensive experience living in Jerusalem and Israel. One was visiting her in-laws, recent immigrants from Los Angeles, while the other, a divorced woman starting anew in the neighbourhood, shared her plans of building a sound studio in her closet for a fresh career venture. As we conversed, it turned out that all three of us had resided on Lake Street in White Plains, NY, during nearly the same period many years ago.

What an incredible and interconnected world!


Spring in Israel

I landed in Israel on March 2nd, arriving from Montreal, and my journey has been a series of incredible encounters with remarkable individuals.

During the flight, I sat beside a young Ukrainian man from Odesa. He had spent the past year living and working in Prague, successfully navigating the challenges of obtaining a transfer from his employer and crossing the Russian border into Czechoslovakia. He was en route to visit his cousins in Tel Aviv, and his story unfolded as we shared the airspace.

Adjacent to us was a woman engrossed in a well-worn Bible. Hailing from Switzerland, she eagerly immersed herself in the places mentioned in the Bible, yearning to experience them firsthand. As we conversed, I provided insights into potential areas to explore, and our connection blossomed to the extent that she extended an invitation to visit her in Switzerland. This serendipitous encounter led to a delightful meal with her and her companions in Jerusalem a week later.

On the communal Sherut taxi, designed to accommodate around ten passengers from the airport directly to their respective destinations, I sat next to an American woman accompanied by a baby. She was returning from a wedding in Montreal, and her husband is currently engaged as a teacher at one of the Yeshivas in Jerusalem. Beside her was Orit Elgavi-Hershler, an Israeli neurobiologist educator fresh from her book launch in Tel Aviv. Captivated by her subject matter— the latest methods for addressing autism, schizophrenia, and related topics—we eagerly posed questions, further enriching our shared journey.

Neuropedagogia Where souls and education meet

Neuropedagogia: Where souls and education meet

The most remarkable moment was yet to transpire as I stepped off the sherut minibus, standing on the narrow sidewalk with my two oversized suitcases and two hefty carry-ons. To my amazement, a woman halted her car, skillfully parking it on my side of the sidewalk. She promptly emerged from her vehicle and approached me, offering assistance with my luggage.

Such a gesture, I mused, might be unparalleled elsewhere in the world. This heartwarming encounter unfolded just as I reached my new apartment in the sacred city of Jerusalem.


Heroes: Then and Now

The Five Books of Moses and the weekly Torah portions in synagogues are usually named after the first significant word in each book. For example, Shemot (Name in English) comes from the initial notable word in the opening sentence of The Book of Exodus.

These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt” (Exodus 1:1). In Hebrew, it is expressed as “Eleh Shemot B’nei Yisrael…”

While this terminology may seem straightforward, various interpretations have arisen regarding its significance. Recently, Rabbi Shipell of Lockdown University shared an intriguing perspective on this matter.*1

Some characters are explicitly named in The Book of Exodus, while many remain anonymous. Despite their lack of individual recognition, the collective impact of these unnamed figures is paramount. As our Passover Haggadah text emphasizes, without their specific contributions, “we, our children, and our children’s children would still be slaves in Egypt.”

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

Among the first individuals explicitly named in the text are the Egyptian midwives to the Hebrews, Shifra and Puah. Their actions constitute the world’s earliest recorded instance of civil disobedience in historical narrative.

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)

In defiance of Pharaoh’s orders, these midwives chose not to comply.

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 figure who defied Pharaoh’s immoral decrees was the Pharaoh’s daughter.

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 2:5-6)

This narrative is the origin story of how Moses was rescued from certain death and subsequently named and adopted by the Egyptian princess. Notably, Pharaoh’s daughter remains unnamed in this account, yet she is the one who bestowed the name Moses upon the child—a name that persists to this day!

She bestowed upon him the name Moses, declaring, “For I drew him from the water” (Exodus 2:10), as expressed in the Hebrew phrase “min hamayim mishitihu.”

In the wake of the seventy-eighth anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, tales of unsung heroes continue to emerge, shedding light on individuals whose pivotal contributions were instrumental in securing victory. One such hero is Juan Pujol García, a Portuguese-born double agent whose bravery and cleverness played a crucial role in achieving victory during the war.

Juan Pujol García’s bold actions were crucial to the Allied victory. In the early 1930s, Pujol, driven by a strong desire to thwart Hitler’s ambitions, began a daring journey. His decision not to join Franco’s fascist army in Spain marked the start of a secretive mission, during which he adeptly posed as a loyal Nazi.

Pujol’s ingenuity led him to send deceptive reports to Germany, earning the trust of the Nazis and eventually a mission to recruit double agents in Britain. He staged an elaborate deception on English soil, creating a fake network of English double agents that confused the German High Command. Discovered by MI-6, the British intelligence agency, Pujol was officially enlisted as “Agent Garbo,” a skilled master of deception.

Agent Garbo’s strategic brilliance shone through as he skillfully deceived the German High Command several times, changing the course of history in favour of the Allies. Using creative tactics, he orchestrated the fabrication of convincing decoys such as balloon tanks and rows of planes, leading to German misperceptions about the upcoming Allied invasion.

Agent Garbo’s legacy highlights how personal courage and strategic thinking can influence the world. Surviving the war, Pujol penned his memoir, “Operation GARBO: The Personal Story of the Most Successful Double Agent of World War II,” co-authored with Nigel West and published on January 1, 1985. In our modern era, these stories of heroism remind us that the spirit of courage and selflessness still plays a role in shaping history, encouraging us all to embrace the heroic within ourselves.

The likes of Juan Pujol García are only now coming to light, uncovering many unknown heroes who silently played a crucial role in shaping history.

While watching “Simone, Woman of the Century,” I was introduced to another extraordinary figure—Simone Veil.

Veil’s life unfolded from a happy childhood in a secular Jewish family to the distressing events of her arrest and deportation to Auschwitz. The story highlights key moments, such as her high school graduation and her achievements after the war—marriage, raising a family, earning a French law degree, serving in the French government, and addressing issues faced by prisoners of war and drug users. Notably, she played a crucial role in securing legal abortion rights in a primarily Catholic country. Her journey concluded with her becoming the European Parliament’s first president, significantly contributing to preventing historical conflicts that troubled Europe for centuries.

This extraordinary odyssey often evokes the famous line spoken by Marc Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

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

Simone Veil’s lasting impact demonstrates the profound influence one person can have on shaping a brighter future. Her commitment to political leadership, resilience, and passionate advocacy for women’s rights have left an indelible mark on history. Beyond politics, Veil’s passionate advocacy for women’s rights inspires those working towards gender equality. Veil’s profound dedication to preserving the memory of the Holocaust underscores the importance of collective remembrance and justice. Her legacy is a living testament to the positive change achievable through unwavering dedication and a steadfast belief in a better tomorrow.



  1. Rabbi Shipell, affiliated with Lockdown University, conducts a weekly seminar delving into the Torah portion of the week on the Lockdown University platform. For subscription inquiries, please contact the Lockdown University Staff at

Does Cosmology Matter?

I’ve been a dedicated listener to CBC, keeping my radio tuned for almost 24 hours a day. It has become a comforting companion, even during the quiet night hours.

One memorable morning, I tuned in to CBC-Ideas, where the program delved into the reading of The Huarochirí Manuscript. This ancient document, a rare record of the Quechua tribe in the Andes of Peru, was compiled by Francisco de Vila, a Catholic monk, in the late 1500s to ” eliminate idolatries” among the conquered South American peoples. Hidden in a Spanish monastery for many years, it was only recently unearthed. Scholars highlight its significance as a tool for reviving and reconstructing Andean metaphysics, which stands distinct from ours. Notably, one narrative in the manuscript places the past in front of us and the future behind us.

These historical documents reveal that the people of 16th century Peru or 1500 BC Egypt were not as different as we might assume. Each society had its unique worldview, and language was essential for expressing these perspectives.

The Book of Exodus, with its profound insights into the cosmology of the Jewish God and people, is another seminal work. Christian Pastor Chuck Swindall reviews the themes in this impactful book, adding to the rich tapestry of human understanding across cultures and centuries.

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.

In my interpretation, the essence of the Book of Exodus lies in imparting insights into Jewish cosmology—how Jews perceive the world and comprehend the role of G-d in human affairs.

At the heart of the narrative is the pivotal character of the Jewish G-d. The divine encounter unfolds as G-d reveals Himself initially to Moses through the burning bush, expressing awareness of the Hebrews’ cries and appointing Moses to lead them out of Egypt. G-d imparts various names to Moses. When Moses, in his hesitation, questions his suitability, God reassures him, saying, “For I will be with you, and this is the sign that I sent you: when you lead the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12).

As the narrative progresses, G-d introduces Himself to the community gathered at Mount Sinai, commencing with the powerful word “anochi.” This signifies a significant moment of divine revelation, reinforcing the profound connection between G-d and the people and illuminating the overarching themes of the Jewish cosmological perspective embedded in the Book of Exodus.

“I, anochi, am the Lord your God, who liberated you from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2).

Following this proclamation, the Decalogue unfolds in the text (Exodus 20:3-14), referred to in Hebrew as the “ten utterances” or “aseret hadibrot.” Against the backdrop of a trembling mountain enveloped in smoke and fire, the resonating sound of the shofar adds a sense of awe to this pivotal moment in the narrative.

We are presented with a G-d (*3) who possesses the qualities of attentiveness, compassion, and a commitment to justice. This divine entity hears, sees, and imparts a code of conduct designed to cultivate a world characterized by justice and compassion—realizing the ideal of “on Earth as it is in Heaven” (*4).

At the heart of this perspective lies Jewish cosmology, which diverges from a preoccupation with the world’s physical attributes. Instead, it centers on the fate of humanity and G-d’s pivotal role in shaping that destiny. With its intricate narrative structure, the Torah serves as a profound educational tool, unveiling the nature of the Jewish G-d and His complex relationships with Israel, humanity, and the entirety of creation.

The morning following my engagement with The Huarochirí Manuscript, another CBC-Ideas program (*5) shed light on the application of pseudo-archaeology. This exploration unveiled instances where pseudo-archaeological narratives have been manipulated to further political and cultural agendas, sometimes even blurring 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 lay the foundation for political ideologies, fuel conflicts, and serve as guiding principles shaping the course of all human history.



*1 CBC-Ideas, “The Huarochirí Manuscript,” broadcasted on February 6, 2023.
*2 Chuck Swindoll provides an overview of Exodus in his renowned series, “God’s Masterwork,” available at
*3 The spelling “G-d” is employed by Jews when writing about the Divine to prevent inadvertently violating the prohibition against “taking God’s Name in vain,” as stipulated in the third of the Ten Commandments.
*4 “On Earth as it is in Heaven,” Matthew 6:10, referenced in The Lord’s Prayer.
*5 CBC-Ideas delves into the intersection of pseudo-archaeology, political agendas, and cultural ideas, exploring the blurry boundary between pseudo-science and religious myth-making—broadcasted on February 7, 2023.