Purim is celebrated with a public reading—usually in the synagogue—of the Book of Esther (Megillat Esther), which tells the story of the holiday. Under the rule of King Ahashverosh, Haman, the king’s prime minister, plots to exterminate all of the Jews of Persia. His plan is foiled by Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, who ultimately save the Jews of Persia from destruction. The reading of the megillah typically is a rowdy affair, punctuated by booing and noise-making when Haman’s name is read aloud.

Purim is an unusual holiday in many respects. First, Esther is the only biblical book in which God is not mentioned. Second, Purim, like Hanukkah, traditionally is viewed as a minor festival, but elevated to a major holiday as a result of the Jewish historical experience. Over the centuries, Haman became the embodiment of every anti-Semite in every land where Jews were oppressed. The significance of Purim lies not so much in how it began, but in what it has become: a thankful and joyous affirmation of Jewish survival against all odds.

  • The story of Purim is found in the Book of Esther, one of the books in the Ketuvim (Writings) section of the Bible. It is set in the land of Persia (current day Iran) at the time when Ahashverosh was king. King Ahashverosh held a banquet in the capital city of Shushan and ordered his queen, Vashti, to come and dance before his guests. She refused to appear and lost her royal position.
  • Acting on advice from his counselors, Ahashverosh held a pageant to choose a new queen. Mordechai, a Jewish man living in Shushan, encouraged his cousin, Esther, to enter the competition. Esther won but, following the advice of her cousin, did not reveal her Jewish origin to the king.
  • Mordechai often sat near the gate of the king’s palace. One day he overheard two men, Bigthan and Teresh, plotting to kill the king. Mordechai reported what he had heard to Esther. She then reported the information to the king. The matter was investigated and found to be true, and Bigthan and Teresh came to an unfortunate end. Mordechai’s deed was recorded in the king’s diary.
  • Meanwhile, the king’s evil adviser, Haman, paraded through the streets, demanding that all bow down to him.  Because Jews do not bow to anyone but God, Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman. Upon learning that Mordechai was Jewish, Haman decided to kill all the Jews in the Persian empire. He plotted to kill them—convincing King Ahashverosh to go along with the plan—and cast purim (“lots,” plural of pur), a kind of lottery, to determine the day on which he would carry out his evil deed: the 13th of Adar.
  • However, Mordechai alerted Esther to Haman’s evil plot, and Esther, in turn, revealed her Jewish identity to the King, convincing him to save the Jews and foiling Haman’s plot.  Haman was hanged, Mordechai received his estates and the position of royal vizier, and the Jews of Persia celebrated their narrow escape on the 14th of Adar, the day after they were supposed to be annihilated.
  • Thus, the fate Haman had planned for the Jews became his own. The holiday of Purim celebrates the bravery of Esther and Mordechai and the deliverance of the Jewish people from the cruelty of oppression.
  • Although Purim is observed in most places on the 14th of Adar, in Jerusalem, it is celebrated on the 15th. M’gillat Esther explains, “on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month—that is the month of Adar—when the king’s command and decree were to be executed, the very day on which the enemies of the Jews intended to have rule over them, the opposite happened, and the Jews prevailed over their adversaries.” The Jews fought and won on the 13th of Adar and celebrated the following day. However, M’gillat Esther continues by explaining that the Jews did not defeat their enemies until the 14th of Adar in the walled city of Shushan. Therefore, cities that were enclosed during the time of Joshua do not celebrate until the 15th of Adar, which has been appropriately named Shushan Purim. Because of the significance of Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated on Shushan Purim.
  • In the Book of Esther, we read that Purim is a time for “feasting and merrymaking,” as well as for “sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor” (Esther 9:22). In addition to reading the M’gillah (Book of Esther), celebrants dress in costumes, have festive parties, perform “Purim-spiels,” silly theatrical adaptations of the story of the M’gillah, send baskets of food (mishloach manot) to friends, and give gifts to the poor (matanot l’evyonim).
  • Hamantaschen
  • Hamantaschen (Yiddish for Haman’s pockets) are three-cornered pastries filled with poppy seeds (mohn in Yiddish), fruit preserves, chocolate, or other ingredients that are traditionally eaten on Purim.  In Israel during the weeks leading up to Purim, the aroma of freshly baked hamantaschen can be smelled on every block. Their triangular shape is thought to be be reminiscent of Haman’s hat or ears.
  • Costumes
  • As part of the carnival-like atmosphere of Purim, many children and adults wear costumes. Some attribute this tradition to the fact that Esther initially “masked” her Jewish identity. Now a vibrant and widely practiced custom, some choose to dress as characters from the Purim story, while others select Jewish heroes from throughout history.
  • In Israel, the celebrations are especially extravagant and exciting.  People of all ages take to the streets, rejoicing with parades, parties, costumes and carnivals. The parade through the streets of Tel Aviv is known to be especially wild.  At the Kotel (the Western Wall) volunteers for Women of the Wall read Megillat Esther in the women’s section.
  • In the Synagogue
  • The Megillah (scroll) most often refers to Megillat Esther (The Scroll of Esther) which also is known as the “Book of Esther.” According to the Talmud, “The study of Torah is interrupted for the reading of the Megillah.” Maimonides, a 12th century sage and rabbi, teaches, “The reading of the Megillah certainly supersedes all other mitzvot.”
  • Traditionally, the Book of Esther is read at both evening and morning services on Purim—both in North America and in Israel. A number of customs are associated with the reading. Haman, the enemy of the Jews in this story, is associated with all those who have tried to destroy the Jewish people throughout history. Therefore, we make loud noises—verbally or with noisemakers—at every mention of Haman’s name in order to drown it out. Derived from the Polish word meaning “rattle,” a grogger is the noisemaker used to drown out the name of Haman during the reading of the Megillah. Beginning in the 13th century, Jews throughout Europe sounded the grogger as a part of their Purim celebrations.
  • A Purimspiel (pronounced shpeel, rhymes with “reel”) is a humorous skit presented on Purim. Most parody the story of the Book of Esther, but it also is common for participants to take the opportunity to poke some gentle fun at themselves and their idiosyncrasies. Some congregations run an adults-only event for Purim, too.
  • At Home
  • Mishloach manot are gifts of food that friends (and prospective new friends!) exchange on Purim. Often presented in baskets, most mishloach manot include hamantaschen, the traditional three-sided pastry eaten on Purim, but may also include a wide variety of foods and treats. These gifts are frequently referred to by their Yiddish name, shalachmanos.
  • Jewish families make mishloach manot baskets at home and distribute then to friends. Many families also make hamantaschen to include in these baskets and to enjoy at home. Check out these creative ideas for making your own.
  • Matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor) are gifts given at this season to those in need so that they, too, can celebrate Purim with a special meal. Many families have committed to participating in this important social justice aspect of the holiday.



Chanukah starts Erev 22 December 2019.
Please join us in celebrating Chanukah at 25 Ulonwabo, 151 Dale lace avenue, starting at 18.30.
Thank you Gabi for having us.
Please bring your chanukiah.
It wouldn’t be a festival if we don’t have special food so anything oily is great!

UAE Summit

Last week (22 November 2019) I had the honour of being invited to participate in the leadership summit which was hosted by the embassy of the United Arab Emirates and the center for human rights at the University of Pretoria.

The summit addressed the concept of tolerance with the theme being, a “Year of Tolerance; Prospects for Peace and Stability in Africa”. 

 His Excellency Mahash Saeed Alhameli, the UAE Ambassador to South Africa opened the colloquium with messages of acceptance and understanding. 

The United Arab Emirates government announced that 2019 would be officially proclaimed the Year of tolerance, to highlight the country’s decision to welcome people of all backgrounds and beliefs and its role in encouraging peace and stability in the Middle East and beyond. It is conscious of its religious and cultural diversity and aims to promote its values globally. It was a great privilege to be invited to represent the Jewish faith and I was asked to talk about peace, living together and doctrines of Progressive Judaism.

The conference focused on how education and knowledge-sharing can be a powerful tool to raise awareness on tolerance in diversity. We tried to analyze the issues on tolerance and peaceful co-existence, and its impact on the social fabric of society.  Many people came to chat after the lecture and gave their feedback, I believe that knowledge is power and if I managed to educate the audience to view Judaism from my perspective and to see the religious angle as inclusive then my goal was achieved.  

I found the conference to be warm and welcoming fostering the feeling of hope, mutual respect, understanding and focus on our commonalities.  I believe the delegates left the workshops and sessions with a better understanding of one another and their cultural and religious beliefs.

Report in SA Jewish Report 12 Dec 2019

Shacharit Service at the Dam

Today 30 November 2019, was the first of hopefully many Unity Shabbat Services attended by the four Gauteng congregations.(Beit Emanuel, Beit Luria, Bet David, Bet Menorah and Temple Israel- Hillbrow).

The service was shared by the three Rabbis (Rabbi Sa’ar Shaked, Rabbi Adrian Schell and Rabbi Julia Margolis)

The delightful service in the Emmarentia Botanical Gardens was a really refreshing way to celebrate Shabbat.

The service was well attended and followed by a picnic in the beautiful surroundings,

Netzer were on hand to keep the young ones entertained in the playground.

Rabbi Julia Margolis said of the service:

“Shaharit at the dam. Bliss.

While I was talking about our weekly portion Toldot, I quoted from the book of Genesis
“This is the line of Isaac”, or “these are the generations of Isaac”: “eleh toldot”. I was thinking of this phrase and what it may mean to us as we age. We all have our personal chronicles of our own family and today was a beautiful example for our next generation.

Thank you everyone for coming and sharing this morning with us.
Shavua Tov


Sukkot is this Sunday evening!!
It is one of my favorite festivals since my childhood in Israel, its the holiday of the open tent.
We marry under a chuppah that is open on all sides to remind us of the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim ( welcoming our guests).
We are encouraged to open our door to a stranger, but my question is: how easy is it to actually open your heart to another person, a stranger perhaps, or how difficult would it be to open your mind to a foreign idea?

Our patriarch Abraham and our Matriarch Sarah show us amazing example of hospitality when they welcome the three angels to their house (without knowing who they are). It explores the exoteric idea, I would like to explore the esoteric idea behind the story. If we are to grow in life/ in this world, if one gives this principal some thought, we would soon realize that in order for us to progress (and after all we are progressive Jews) we will need to open ourselves up, in order for this to take place.
One can look to G-d or nature if you prefer, to find answers – just observe how flowers open themselves up to sunlight – and if they did not, if they refused to open themselves up, what would become of such flowers?

When new or strange ideas are put to humanity, humanity usually, more often then not reacts with inhumanity to such strange thoughts. Today is also a mini celebration for me, as we celebrate being a “progressive Jews,” this because we as a community have the right, and are actually encouraged to “think” about things, things that may well be strange at first. But if our hearts and minds are sufficiently open to such strange or simply new ideas, then we have a very real opportunity for growth – with a new idea or understanding of things, we can very well end up seeing things from a different, or higher perspective, then the one we are used to.
Perhaps we see that someone close or indeed a stranger did something that really annoyed us, but when we opened ourselves up, even for just a little while to another possibility, we may well understand that they only did so out of genuine care or concern for us – for our wellbeing. If we do not open our hearts and minds up to new or strange ideas (and here I do not suggest that we simply or blindly accept such ideas) but only that we open ourselves up long enough to give a moments genuine consideration to them. Perhaps then with G-d’s blessings, we will be opening ourselves up, just like the flowers, long enough to let in the light. I am only suggesting that we be open, that our hearts and minds are not closed on all sides, that just like our Sukkas, our hearts and minds are open to a possibility, a higher possibility, no matter how strange such a possibility may seem or appear to us at first sight.

From the example of our Matriarch and Patriarch lets strive to be better hosts, and be mindful to keep our tent doors open whether those doors are the doors of our home or the doors of our congregation.
May we all be rewarded by G-d with many blessings for making the stranger feel at home among us.
Join us this coming sunday at our open Sukkah !
Chag Sameach!

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner and we know that the commandment of this festival is to listen to the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn. Aside from sacrifice, this is the only specific action mandated for this day in the Torah.

It says in the Un’taneh Tokef prayer that “the great shofar will be sounded, and a still small voice will be heard”.

Each human being needs to open his or her’s heart to hear this “small voice”

that comprises the pain and love of the entire world.

Each and every human being…

In Talmud, we learn about a person that hears the sound of the shofar, when he walks near the synagogue “… if one should happen to pass by a synagogue…, and should hear the cornet (on the New Year) …” (Tractate Rosh Hashana 3,7)

The meaning is that his heart is open, he is ready to “hear,” but not with the congregation, not within the community. This situation resonates with so many people, many people are ready and willing  to learn the meaning and spirit of our tradition, but  they want to do it “from the side” as they are afraid to cross the doorstep of the synagogue, because they see it  as a complex of certain stereotypes and formal rites.

During the festive meal for the Rosh Hashanah will all gather at the table to eat delicious food that prepared with love and care, we unlikely to have a walnut nut because in Hebrew gematria word Walnut is equal to the word Sin,

 there is no place for it at the table during the days of we when we pray for forgiveness and repentance.

My mom, Rabbi Elena Rubinshtein, discovered that our “poor walnut” was not deservedly expelled, because when someone was calculating the gematria of the words Walnut אגוז and Sin חטא, they did not count the last letter Aleph in the word Sin.

 And this is how the stereotype was born – Walnut = Sin (אגוז = חטא)

But in fact, the gematria of the word Walnut is Good (אגוז = טוב = 8)

The symbol of sin can be turned into a symbol of all the good that exists in the world.

We were all created to learn, to correct mistakes, to care, to love, not to be indifferent, not to pass “by”- that is the essence of the creation!

May we be able to learn and understand that every “sin” can be turned to the good.

Shana Tova Ve Metukah!

Official Opening

8 September 2019 saw an amazing dream come true with the official opening of Beit Luria, the 11th Progressive Synagogue in South Africa and the first in Gauteng in almost 50 years.

 It is also the first Progressive Shul opened by female rabbi.  Rabbi Julia Margolis persevered against all odds – with the assistance of a few friends including Steve Lurie,  Honorary Life President of the South African Union of Progressive Judaism, and Leonard Singer, also a past member of the SAUPJ – built up a congregation which then applied successfully to the SAUPJ for affiliation as the 11th Progressive Shul. 

Today we also saw the handing over of a Torah scroll donated by Rabbi Hillel Cohn of San Bernardino in California, USA. 

 It was an emotional event and especially so for Rabbi Julia Margolis in fulfilling her dream, and for those who completed the journey with her.

Rabbi Julia Margolis and the management of Beit Luria look forward to a new journey together with SAUPJ and the World Union of Progressive Judaism, to advance and promote the traditions and values of Progressive Judaism within our community and by extension our country and the worldwide movement.