Purim as a Call to Action to End Economic Inequality

February 24, 2015
I have always loved Purim. I remember eating hamentaschen in my religious school classes (deciding amongst the apricot, poppyseed, chocolate or strawberry flavors), playing bean bag toss at the Purim carnival, and waiving the groger enthusiastically as my rabbis, dressed up in costumes to accompany the theme of that year’s Purim spiel, recited the name of Haman, the wicked villain who tried to kill the Jews. I remember feeling so honored when I got to wear my own costume as part of the Purim spiel and read the megillah the year after I became a Bat Mitzvah. We are taught that Purim is a time for “feasting and merrymaking” (Megillat Esther 9:22). However, there are also a number of traditional obligations we have as Jews in addition to feasting and merrymaking, which remind us of the struggles for justice that continue year round. On Purim, we are taught to give “presents to the poor”. Matanot l’evyonim, or gifts to the poor, are given to those in need so that they can also join in celebrating the holiday. Since Jewish tradition expects that “everybody, even the poorest Israelite who accepts charity, [be] obliged to give at least two gifts to two poor persons” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 142), it is clear that by accepting parts of the gifts, we are also taking part in the rejoicing. We cannot fully rejoice and celebrate Purim unless if those who are less fortunate can also partake in the holiday. This law requiring everyone to give matanot l’evyonim also blurs the lines between the rich and the poor. Let us make Purim a day on which we envision a world that does not know such vast differences between the wealthy and the needy, but, rather, sustains all of its inhabitants in security and comfort. Many Reform synagogues participate in this practice – learn more about programs that connect social justice with Purim on the RAC’s website. We can’t just be satisfied with giving those in need food: just as Esther pushed King Ahasuerus in order to make change happen, it is also clear that we need to make sure that our government works to help those less fortunate through structural programs. In the United States, there are 14.7 million poor children and 6.5 million extremely poor children. Many of these poor children struggle with issues pertaining to child hunger. The US Department of Agriculture reports that 15.8 million children under 18 live in households experiencing food insecurity. Hunger is still taking place on a massive scale, both in the United States and around the world. This September, Congress will need to address issues regarding reauthorization for child nutrition programs. While the programs are permanently authorized, Congress uses the reauthorization process to review the laws and re allocate funding when the laws expire. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – which includes programs such as the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, the Summer Food Service Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) - is set to expire on September 2015. It is essential that these programs stay funded so that children can get the support that they need. Urge your Members of Congress to fund important child nutrition programs today! In addition to celebrating by eating hamentaschen, enjoying the Purim carnival or laughing at Purim spiels, make this Purim a time of social action by helping those in need.

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