This Weekend at the Y: Purim Fun for Everyone

by Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein, Executive Director

Purim is a holiday that is a thankful and joyful affirmation of Jewish survival, focused on joy and hope. We celebrate an ancient tale–the Book of Esther (aka the Megillah)– to remind us that we celebrate our remembered escape from persecution by generous acts towards those who are currently in need.

At the Y, we are excited to invite everyone in the neighborhood to celebrate together this weekend, at Pause/Play on Saturday, 2/28 and at a LABAKids concert on Sunday, 3/1. 

Saturday’s Pause/Play  will feature many celebratory Purim themed activities such as juggling, art (making masks), games and sports with our wonderful New Country Day Camp staff. Kids are encouraged to come in costume and join in a Purim Parade.  Adults can participate in activities with their children, or separately in two very special activities just for them.

Childcare and kid drop off activities are available!

On Sunday, enjoy LABAKIDS Purim concert together with your kids. Come in your favorite costume, make masks for an animal parade and take snapshots with our photo booth!

Each of these events are fun and accessible ways to get into the Purim spirit.  Everyone is welcome.

Traditionally, there are four observances for Purim–and each one has ways to engage at the 14th Street Y:

  1. Retelling the Purim story, frequently with humor and levity, dressed up in costumes as the characters in the story. This weekend at the Y, you can wear a costume to Saturday’s Pause/Play, bring toddlers in costume to our singalong at 4:00PM with Debbie Brukman, and party at the LABAKIDS concert on Sunday.
  1. Having a majestic celebratory feast, which traditionally includes healthy adults getting drunk. We hope that you will come enjoy delicious snacks at Pause/Play sponsored by Colson Patisserie and Sweet Loren, and that adults will drop off their kids at NCDC classes and come to the whisky tasting at 4:45PM with Dan Friedman.
  1. Giving financial gifts (tzedakah or charity) to those in need (matanot l’evyonim)
  2. Giving care packages of food and other treats to our friends and neighbors (mishloach manot).

As you decide how to give to your friends and to those in need, come chat with NY Times “Your Money” Columnist Ron Lieber as he discusses his new book, The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids who are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money–and think with your neighbors about how to raise kids with excellent values who know how to save, splurge, and give in meaningful ways.

We hope to see you all this weekend for a wonderful celebration!


ben circleOn Thursday, February 26, LABAlive will present “Creating Time,” an evening of innovative culture and subversive teachings exploring our relationship with time. The evening will feature curator Daniel S. Palmer talking about a new digital curatorial model, teacher Ruby Namdar explaining the relationship between creation and time and Benjamin Kamine presenting an excerpt from a brand new project, “Promised Land.”

Kamine talks about his new project and the inspiration he found in our house of study.

Tell us about your project.
I asked LABA to commission a new play for me to develop with Ari Stess, a writer I have been wanting to work with for a long time. The play, called “Promised Land” will follow a family across generations. Here’s the synopsis:

While World War II rages on in Europe, three Jewish students from New Jersey decide to escape familial pressures by train-hopping to the New Mexican frontier to build a new life in the desert. Before long, news of the Holocaust has scared their parents into joining them and a misunderstanding about nuclear testing forces all three families underground for seventy years. In 2015, their descendants are discovered, and they emerge into the modern Jewish community, a community radically altered by the devastation of the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel. With the world watching, how will they engage with what they find?

Basically, I wanted to look at the way in which the generational trauma of the Holocaust has affected the way we look at the state of Israel and our identity as American Jews. For the presentation, we’ll do a reading of about twenty minutes of text that Ari has written.

How do you see it developing in the future?
We’ve reached out to a few institutions, both Jewish and not, in the hopes of finding an opportunity to more fully develop the play. And then, of course, once there’s a strong draft, we’ll be looking for a production.

Any new thoughts about time?
Actually, a ton. This exploration, both through the LABA texts and through my work with Ari, has gotten me thinking about the construction of what we’ve deemed sacred time. How do we build rituals and how do they gain significance? In modern life in the US, there’s a lot of cultural discussion of mindfulness and being present, often through the lens of Eastern philosophical and religious traditions. But the LABA study has reminded me that Judaism has something to say about that. We “daven” [pray] with intention all day long, saying “brachas” [blessings] before and after eating, for example. I’ve actually started saying “Modeh Ani” [the blessing you say upon waking] every morning when I wake up. I just open my eyes and say it slowly and with intent before I do anything else. It prepares me for the day in a completely different way.

For most of my adult life, theater has been my way of being present and mindful. I turn off my phone when I walk into rehearsal or when I sit down to watch a show. I am fully engaged with the people in the room. It’s been wonderful to reconnect with the Jewish approach to time.

Which texts that you studied this year so far have most stuck in your mind? Why?
A bunch have. But the most significant for me has absolutely been the exploration we did of Shabbos in the desert. Ruby [Namdar] completely reframed this for me. I have always thought of the generation that left Egypt in a negative light. G-d does this great miracle for them, which they have seen with their own eyes (10 Plagues, Parting of the Red Sea, etc.), but they are constantly freaking out, wishing they were back in Egypt, building idols, and just generally being pretty ungrateful. Well, when you look at the story of the manna, you realize that G-d really isn’t thinking too carefully about their very human needs. It is six weeks of wandering in the desert before manna is provided, and even then, there’s big punishments for anyone who tries to collect on Shabbos. Which, when you think about it, is really terrifying. You’re in the desert, you’re hungry, and the guy who’s leading you says, “G-d spoke to me and said, take a day off from collecting food every week.” It’s a huge leap of faith, one I don’t think we appreciate in the era of 24 hour convenience.

How have they, or other texts, inspired this work?
Ari’s play is about a community of Jews surviving on a subsistence farm in the desert. Keeping Shabbos is harrowing in exactly the same way as what I was describing above.

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Sharing our Sadness

One of the most powerful things about community is the way we can hold one another up in celebration, in happiness, in reflection, in spiritual practice, and in grief. It is in this spirit that we are sharing that our Executive Director, Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein has lost her father, Rabbi Norman David Koch, unexpectedly and suddenly.  Today we share the obituary written by his family and thank you, our community, for the many ways you support all of us at the Y every day.

May his memory be a blessing

image (1)In grief we announce that Rabbi Norman David Koch died, surrounded by his beloved family and friends, as Shabbat Yitro entered on Friday evening February 6th/18 Shevat, of silent and undetected esophageal cancer. He was 66 years old.

His death came eight days after burying his dear mother, Reta.

Rabbi Koch is survived by his beloved wife Rosalyn, his siblings, Paul Koch & Patti Marcus, Ellen Koch & Marty Shinder, by his children, Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein & Dr. Jason Epstein, Yonatan & Erin Koch, Matan Koch, Adina Koch, Aytan Koch, and his grandchildren, Duncan, Jason and Avigayil Koch and Amichai and Kobi Epstein.

The funeral will take place on Sunday, February 8 at 11am at Temple Sholom, 122 Kent Road (Route 7) New Milford, CT 06776 with interment immediately following at New Milford Center Cemetery. Family will return to the home of Rosalyn Koch for the meal of consolation. Shiva will be held Sunday evening from 7-8:30 pm with a minyan at 7:30pm. For details regarding shiva after Sunday, please contact Marissa Rosenblum at  Shiva will be held in New York City on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Having retired in June from serving for 35 years as the Rabbi of Temple Sholom in New Milford, CT, Rabbi Koch was known and respected as a leader with steadfast convictions and a passion for social justice. An active member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) he was a past president of its Northeast Region.  Rabbi Koch was active in the New Milford Clergy Association, served on the Medical Ethics Committee at New Milford Hospital, was a member of the Ethics Commission of the Town of New Milford, and after serving on many boards was serving as the chair of the cemetery in New Milford.  For decades he served on the faculty of the URJ’s Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, MA and numerous NFTY Northeast Institutes and was dedicated to Jewish camping and to creating innovative Jewish educational programming.

Norman was a loving father and grandfather who enjoyed cooking for his family, Scrabble and crossword puzzles, and reading and playing with his grandchildren.

Donations in his memory can be made to Temple Sholom, P.O. Box 509, New Milford, CT, 06776, Congregation B’nai Israel, 193 Clapboard Ridge Rd., Danbury, CT 06811, and the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th St, New York, NY 10003.

Keeping it Green at the 14th Street Y

Kids in our After School, Preschool, and “Now We Are Three” program are always busy learning, growing and thinking about ways to be kind to the world and to each other.

Recently, all of these programs spent some time creating green themed projects, Preschool and Now We Are Three in honor of Tu B’Shevat, the Holiday for trees, and After School as part of a whole day of greening.

After School  Counselor Mauricio had the idea to create carnival games out of recycled cardboard.
After School Counselor Mauricio had the idea to create carnival games out of recycled cardboard.
wack a clown
After School kids spent 13 weeks planning and creating games like this one.  The entire After School community got a chance to try them out on ‘greening day’!
bin it to win it
Would you know where to bin it? After School kids play “Bin it to Win it”, and learn when and how to recycle. And when to compost!
house 301 tree
House 301 in our Preschool created this beautiful tree in honor of Tu B’ Shevat. We like to remember the good work the trees are doing to bring us fruits and leaves when spring comes back again.
tree preschool
Preschool House 305 made this ‘present tree’ which you can see when you climb the stairs at the 14th Street Y!
trees tu b'shevat
There are so many ways to use the beauty of nature in the art that we do. We are looking forward to spring!