By Israel Heger
NCSY International Board
Central East NCSY Regional Board Vice President
Cleveland NCSY VP of Jrs
Surprised? You might have assumed that I consumed mass amounts of alcohol during my Purim experience. On the contrary, I received my ecstasy through means of a different substance- a substance that cannot be synthesized by getting drunk or high. The substance that I am referring to is actually true happiness in its purest form. And yes, just to be as clear as possible, it was achieved without consuming any chemically altering substances.
I am very well aware that most adults and adolescents believe in the idea of drinking a little bit on Purim. And, that is okay when done in the proper context. And when it’s not in the proper context, believe me, in the past I have been very close to knocking on your door and asking to hangout. But, friends, this Purim was different for me.
Fortunately, NCSY put together an amazing weekend that allowed me to enjoy my Purim in a healthy way. They started by assembling 6 of the finest advisors from across the country to infuse energy into the weekend’s festivities. During Shabbas before Purim began, one of these advisors asked me, “Israel, what does Cleveland usually do for Purim?” And so I responded, “For most of the youth-community, not much actually.”
Thankfully, this year that has changed. Thanks to NCSY, Jewish youth all across Cleveland (not just the day-school kids) had an abundance of options.
As Purim began, NCSY orchestrated a Megillah reading with 40 in attendance. Many of these kids heard the Megillah reading for their first time. Later that night, most of the same group enjoyed time spent at Whirly Ball, enhancing their Purim experience. Amazingly, many of these teenagers admitted that had there not been an option to go to Whirly Ball, they would have gotten drunk.
The following morning, NCSY arranged 2 full-sized party busses filled with 50 Jewish teenagers. On and off the busses, teens alike danced in celebration of the holiday. Additionally to dancing and singing with the families we visited, sharing with them the joy of being a Jew, we left them with Mishloach Manot. In all, we visited about 2-dozen houses within the community including Yachad and friendship circle households.
At our last stop, the home of Mendy Klein, he preached to us, “What kind of happiness are you supposed to have on Purim? Happiness WITHOUT Alcohol! Who’s going to have a happy time on Purim WITHOUT Alcohol?!”
So, when did I achieve this cliché I call, “true happiness”? First, we must define happiness…
“Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.” (Pirkei Avos 4:1) Here, being rich does not mean you are physically wealthy, rather it means you are content with what you already have: Family, friends, love and well… G-d. Thus, one becomes happy. You see, one observes and then decides to be happy. It is important to understand that as humans, we create the world in which we live to a great extent. Yes, many events are beyond our control… (Especially when drunk) yet, we still have the ability to control our attitudes toward a given situation to a large degree. Hence the emotional consequences of events are largely up to us. Happiness can be learned…
Now, let’s go back to Purim. I remember looking at the clock as it read, 2:37pm Sunday, February 24. For the past hour, I had volunteered to deliver Mishloach Manot that my aunt had prepared for family friends. Finally, I completed this errand. At this moment on Purim, I turn off my car, unbuckle my 1987 Chevy Impala’s seatbelt, began walking up the driveway and then, up the stairs. Finally, I open the door and take two steps forward.
Here, was my happiness.
Here, was a Purim Seuda. Here, in the house of NCSY Associate Director Chaim Zimmerman were 45 Jewish teens sitting together, laughing and eating across rows of tables throughout the Zimmerman living room and dining room. Here, in the year 2013, two millennia after Esther saved the Jews from a potential Holocaust, I was standing. Here, I don’t need to get drunk to be happy, rather I can observe what G-d has given me and achieve happiness. This group enhances my ability to understand the pride I should have in my Judaism. They lift the mask of worry and fear right off my face. They take me away from the pressures of society and allow me to express my Judaism. Here, I’m living a Jewish life the right way… And this, my friends, was a moment of pure happiness.
And boy, did it feel good.