Split Jewish Congregations Celebrate Purim Holiday
Temple Kol Ami and B'nai Israel Synagogue combine and complement each other's celebrations.
Jewish communities throughout the world celebrated Purim this past weekend, but of the 10 Jewish congregations in West Bloomfield, and five along Walnut Lake Road, only at Temple Kol Ami did two congregations celebrate both separately and together.
This is because in September, the reform temple also became the home of the conservative B’nai Israel Synagogue.
“Purim is one of the happy holidays, and it’s nice to be able to celebrate with the congregation,” said Julie Flashner, a Temple Kol Ami member from West Bloomfield, who attended with her husband, Michael, and high school-age son, Evan.
“Watching the seventh-grade skit was the highlight for me,” she said when asked what she enjoyed most. “And it’s a mitzvah (commandment) to hear the megillah (Book of Esther) being read.”
Temple Kol Ami (Voice of My People), led by Rabbi Norman Roman, is a 44-year-old congregation with about 370 members known for its community involvement and social-action orientation. B’nai Israel Synagogue (Children of Israel) was originally incorporated as Congregation B’nai Israel in Pontiac in 1934, then became part of Southfield’s Congregation Shaarey Zedek (Gates of Righteousness) in the early 1990s.
But last year, when Shaarey Zedek decided to close the West Bloomfield building — just down the road from Temple Kol Ami — some members looked to stay together as a West Bloomfield congregation. Months of discussion led to B’nai Israel establishing a new home at Kol Ami. The new congregation now has 111 member families.
Purim is a minor Jewish holiday commemorating the defeat of a plot in Persia (now Iran) to exterminate the Jewish people back in the fourth century B.C.E. The holiday is marked by the reading of the Book of Esther, which tells the ancient story, as well as merrymaking that often includes wearing costumes, performing irreverent skits, the giving of charity and gifts of food, as well as indulging in food and drink — including a special pastry delicacy, hamantashen.
“It’s a story of heroism, celebration, women’s lib, family and a demonstration of individual strength and courage and facing up to your identity,” Roman explained, touching on various aspects of the holiday.
Following a pasta dinner and the collection of food for an area food bank, Temple Kol Ami held a Western-themed, children-oriented “Yee-Haw Purim,” complete with cowboy hats, Texas twangs and lots of group participation. Roman told the Purim story in a mix of Hebrew and English, with the children cheering the heroes of the story and making noise to drown out the name of the villain.
As Kol Ami ended its celebration over hamantashen, B’nai Israel started the same way.
Its socializing was followed by a text study, followed in turn by holiday skits performed by the children of its religious school. Then, after more merrymaking, Rabbi Jonathan Berger and congregants read the both complete Book of Esther in Hebrew and a modern, creative reworking of the story.
“B’nai Israel is not just a synagogue, we’re a community,” said Fran Chudnow of West Bloomfield, explaining why she and her husband, Ed, decided to stay with B’nai Israel.
She said that while the two congregations are different — and intend to stay that way — their partnership is working.
“It’s like two different families coming together,” Chudnow said. “We often share lunch together on Saturday afternoon, and it’s a great way to get to know each other. Our kids are older now, but the kids who did the skits are kids we’ve watched grow up. So, it’s like all of them are our kids, and that makes it very special."
On Sunday, keeping with the festive spirit, Kol Ami hosted a Purim Carnival with food, games and prizes for families from both congregations. B’nai Israel held a luncheon to celebrate the holiday and raise funds for Yad Ezra, the kosher food bank in Berkley.
“We’re happy to have a place we can call home and do good things together,” said B’nai Israel President and Executive Director Linda Jacobson of West Bloomfield, who attended with her husband, Steve, and her brother-in-law and his family.
“We had a fair number of people who are new to the synagogue,” she said. "They had heard good things and wanted to see what is going on.”