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Purim as the Gateway for Engaging the Jewish Community

by Cantor Tifani Coyot

Across America, Reform congregations are seeking to make Judaism more relevant and exciting for the unaffiliated, secular, marginal and less active liberal Jews. Synagogues are searching for innovative and creative ways to bring these Jews into their communities after the High Holy Days. Every year, my congregation in Los Angeles, Temple Isaiah, rents out UCLA’s Royce Hall to conduct double services for the High Holy Days for over 3,000 people. During Yom Kippur, I look out into the congregation and dream of celebrating with all 3,000 of them at Purim. The joy and excitement of Purim have the potential to engage the entire community from preschooler to empty nester and from the observant to the agnostic.

Purim can be a gateway for the unaffiliated and less active Jews if congregations are willing to invest time and creativity to enhancing their celebrations. For inspiration, communities can look to the Purim videos, songs, scripts, and programming available online. Here are some of my favorite videos, which successfully bring the Joy of Purim.

At Temple Isaiah the months of January through March are devoted to preparing our congregation for Purim. Our goal is to make Purim an essential part of our congregation’s yearly cycle. We publicize Purim almost two months in advance. The clergy wear costumes and play music during pick up and drop off at preschool and religious school. We create flyers, send out emails, use social media, display posters around the synagogue, and make promotional videos highlighting the theme of our Purim Celebration. We create hype and anticipation so Purim becomes the topic of conversation for families and among congregants. This year we are performing “Pitch Perfect Purim” which gives tribute to the popularity of A Capella groups in American culture. Our video advertising Purim reenacts the audition sequence from Pitch Perfect with the addition of costumes.

Pitch Perfect Purim: Temple Isaiah

The slapstick humor and masquerading of Purim make it a great holiday to engage the younger generations. Many communities use pop culture to advertise and create Purim experiences that are relevant and exciting for youth, teens, and their parents.

In 2013, Temple Israel of West Bloomfield, MI used pop music to educate their community about Purim. They blended popular culture with Yiddish and Hebrew phrases that highlighted the absurdities and joys of celebrating Purim. Their clergy and staff are fun and relatable in this parody of Moves Like Jagger, by Maroon 5

Move Like Graggers Remix: Temple Israel West Bloomfield

Purim is a holiday that encourages the entire community to come together in celebration! Purim performances and celebrations should reflect the spirit of inclusivity and be interactive and engaging for a multi-generational audience. Purim celebrations can inspire community members to participate in the experience through performing, cooking, dancing, drinking and socializing. During our performances, we can involve congregants through teaching them line dances, giving them words to the parodies, and having them vote for the winner of the performance. Last year at Temple Isaiah, our Purim Performance was Shushan Idol. In order to engage the different generations we made sure that our characters/contestants represented Pop Idols from all eras; Haman sang Elvis Presley, Vasthi sang Motown, Esther sang Katy Perry, and Mordechai was a rap star. The following is a link to the eight-minute version of Shushan Idol.

Shushan Idol

American Jews are surrounded by media, pop-culture, and technology. In order to be successful with Purim, communities need to invest their talents and budget in creating artistic and engaging Purim productions. Even small congregations, can ask their talented congregants to help make their celebrations more successful. Jewish leaders can use the incredible videos available online to promote Purim. For example, the 2012 students of the Year in Israel program at the Hebrew Union College put together this incredible parody of the Book of Mormon.

"Hello" - from "The Book of Purim"

There are many parodies and videos to share with our communities. Consider handing out maracas at your Purim celebration and teaching Michelle Citrin’s parody of Shake, Señora.

Michelle Citrin - Shake Your Grogger (A Purim Song)

I have seen the success that investing in Purim can bring. Last Purim, my synagogue was filled beyond capacity with Jews of all generations because of our advertising, use of pop culture and technology.
Chag Purim Sameach!

Cantor Tifani Coyot is the Senior Cantor at Temple Isaiah, Los Angeles. She received her ordination as Cantor at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion with a Masters in Sacred Music and a Masters in Jewish Education. Cantor Coyot is a strong believer in informal education which inspired her to become a Jewish Professional. She has been active in Jewish camping and song-leading since High School. Her Cantorate is centered on Joy, relationships and creating meaningful Jewish experiences. Cantor Coyot’s passion is in creating innovative worship experiences. She is a member of the Joint Worship committee and is an active leader in the Western Region Cantors Network for the American Conference of Cantors and the Cantors Assembly. She is also the cantor at the Hebrew Union College campus in Los Angeles. She actively builds bridges using music with many faith-based organizations in Los Angeles.