Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Purim Principle

Last night, March 19th, marked the beginning of Purim, a Jewish holiday regularly held shortly before Passover, the major spring Holiday. Passover gets lumped with Easter, the way Chanukah gets lumped with Christmas (even though the holidays have nothing in common) by well-meaning folks who want to give Jews semi-equal time during the major Christian seasons. But Purim is a stand-alone Jewish holiday which, it is my impression, is enjoying renewed importance among the growing population of contemporary observant Jews. For the record, when I was growing up, my Jewish mother and grandparents paid no attention whatever to Purim. I had heard of it, but it wasn’t a part of my life. And when I was studying Judaism as part of my training for the Interfaith ministry, I don’t remember much attention being paid to Purim – but to be honest, there was a lot of stuff covered about many faiths that I can’t now recall. So my education continues.

I’m very pleased to learn about Purim, because it appears to be a holiday that embraces intellect, compassion, political savvy, and outreach to others for a variety of reasons. Since I’m not knowledgeable about Purim and don’t see the point in synthesizing good critiques written by others, I want to direct you to two Purim posts on The Huffington Post today: “The Whimsy, Confusion and Hope of Purim” by Arnold E. Eisen, chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, and, “Forget God, Drink Responsibly, and Save the World One Person At a Time” by Brad Hirschfield, rabbi, author and expert on religion and public life. I hope you’ll take a moment and read these.

In a superficial nutshell, Purim is about celebrating what’s good in your life, not whining about what’s bad, being of service to others, and giving your relationships with family and friends the attention and respect they deserve. This is an important message for me, because even though I often and sincerely count my blessings, I could no doubt be certified as a professional whiner and I haven’t been of any meaningful service to anyone over the past couple of years. When you’re essentially a recluse, that kind of shit frequently happens. Similarly, I haven’t been giving the relationships in my life the attention they deserve, a bitter irony, as loneliness and isolation are two of my biggest beefs.

I thought it was interesting that just shortly before knowledge of Purim swam into my ken, I got an email from my friend Nadine Hack, who is presently executive-in-residence at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Switzerland. She recently placed a post on her company blog, beCause Global Consulting, entitled “Relationships: Connecting and Reconnecting,” in which she says: “The most profound relationships form and sustain when you connect deeply and then continue to nurture those connections, whether in personal or professional contexts.” In her work she’s teaching about “creating and sustaining highly relational engagement of [a business’] internal and external stakeholders.” I’m holed up here in the Tower always feeling abandoned while I do very little to nurture my extended group of connections. I didn’t know what to say in response to her post.

But yesterday I came across an article in the New York Times, “Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You,” which says that not only are people ripping out land-line telephones in their homes in droves, relying exclusively on cells, people aren’t calling each other anymore just to chat; they’re texting and emailing to convey information. Phoning someone to chat is now considered invasive and rude, both personally and in business. I was aghast. It’s true, I only receive calls from a small corps of people, but I thought that demonstrated the collapse of my personal life, I didn’t know it was a cultural trend. Since I’ve been in the midst of bemoaning the death of the art of conversation, this was not so much a surprise as another kick to my psyche’s stomach.

I realize the world has changed enormously over the past ten years. The post-9/11 reality has become The New Normal: paranoid, fast-paced, highly competitive, less of a concept of privacy but a decreasing lack of intimacy, very high tech social interaction, increasing religious observance, increasing economic divide, decreasing social amenities, decreasing family cohesion, the dumbing-down of everything…etc. For me, this is personified by a TV commercial for audio-books that I’ve seen several times. It begins with a harried man saying, “I love reading books but who has the time?” We’ve become a society ever-more focused on doing rather than being, and it appears that most folks don’t have the time for the things that civilize and sustain – like chatting on the phone or reading a book! I’m not a happy camper. I have no place in this brave new world, yet here I am, hanging about on the edges.

So, if celebrating Purim can give us both the opportunity and the skill to slow down, party, connect, find reasons to be cheerful, and make time to be aware of and help others, maybe this is a holiday we should secularize so that everyone feels welcome in the groove. We could call it “Stop and Smell the Roses Day.” Think about it. I’ll give you a call.

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