Dr. Paul Brody of Great Neck has instructed students of North Shore Hebrew Acadamy (NSHA) Middle School in Great Neck on how to read Megillah Esther (the Scroll of Esther) for almost 20 years now.
Dr. Brody, a dermatologist, implemented the program in 2002 when he observed that almost no young people knew how to read the Megillah. He has instructed approximately 400 seventh-and eighth-graders, both Ashkenazic and Sephardic, who have chanted Megillat Esther in a unique student-led service for their schoolmates, faculty and families, on Purim Day.
Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Kobrin, Head of School, proclaimed: “NSHA will be publicly recognizing Dr. Brody this year for his 20 years of dedication to the school, its students, and teaching them how to expertly read the Megillah.”
Purim is the annual celebration of the salvation of the Jewish People by the Persian Queen Esther, a Jewish woman, who beseeched her husband King Achashverosh (Xerxes), at the behest of her uncle Mordechai, to nullify the evil decree of his Prime Minister Haman, who had planned to annihilate all the Jews. The holiday, which this year is celebrated on Wednesday evening, March 16, and Thursday, March 17, is particularly significant on the Great Neck peninsula, which has one of the largest concentrations of Persian Jews in the world.
The NSHA was established in 1954 by Rabbi Dr. Ephraim R. Wolf, Of Blessed Memory (OBM), who was also the Rabbi of the Great Neck Synagogue and acknowledged to be the force behind establishing Orthodox Judaism on the Great Neck Peninsula.
The Middle School students at the NSHA have been instructed by Dr. Brody in the fine art of cantillation and the meticulous notes and melody of chanting the Megillah. Rabbi Dr. Kobrin, and Rabbi Adam Acobas, the Middle School principal along with Rabbis Greenfeld and Reichel have facilitated the students’ hectic schedules to enable adequate review time with Dr. Brody.
“It was twenty years ago when Dr. Brody, a devoted NSHA parent, and devout community member, approached Rabbi Reichel and myself, with an inspiring Purim Megillah Reading project,” Rabbi Greenfeld reminisced. “He volunteers to teach our middle school students to read the Megillah at a special minyan (quorum), turning this one of the five Purim mitzvot (commandments) into a very exciting spiritual and learning experience.”
“Dr. Brody’s concept of instructing Middle School students to chant the Megillah, has allowed NSHA students and their extended families to enjoy a total Purim experience, not only on Purim night,” said Rabbi Reichel.
“This is a wonderful tradition established by Dr. Brody has enabled generations of our students to learn a life skill that they will be able to perform the mitzvah of reading the Megillah for years to come,” said Rabbi Dr. Kobrin.
Unfortunately, Dr. Brody took a slip on an icy patch this year, landing him in extended rehabilitation after complex surgery. Before Dr. Brody’s slip, he was able to conduct probas (tryouts) for the eligible students, which this year including a high of 36 participants. He began listening to, guiding and fine-tuning each student in their Megillah portion. Rabbi Acobas and Chazzan Yitzy Spinner of the Great Neck Synagogue are completing the task.
Dr. Brody’s initiative at NSHA has lead to learning to read the Scroll of Esther becoming integral in NSHA’s curriculum, and unique among Yeshivot (Jewish Day Schools). Students are now enabled to read the Megillah at various synagogues, hospitals, nursing homes and private homes, for those unable to attend public readings.
Dr. Brody has read the Megillah for almost 50 years. Brody’s maternal grandfather, Rabbi Jacob Brown, OBM, convinced him to read the “gantze [entire] Megillah,” after Brody learned the initial Megillah trope at the Cantorial Training Institute (CTI) of Yeshiva University. He first chanted it in 1973 at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills (YIKGH), in Queens, under the tutelage of Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, OBM. He has chanted Megillat Esther at the Great Neck Synagogue ever since. Dr. Brody wears his grandfather’s century-old tallit (Prayer Shawl) when he chants the Megillah, and so do his Ashkenazic students.
“I extremely enjoy Dr. Brody‘s creative Megillah laining (chanting),” said Dr. Irvin Spira, who has a lifetime interest in musical cantillation. “He modulates his voice for the various personages in the Megillah, employs special tunes at dramatic moments, and utilizes several props to keep his listeners’ interest. I try to never miss his unique rendition.”
In 2019 and 2020, Dr. Brody additionally recruited and coordinated a group of his alumni students to lain at the Great Neck Synagogue (GNS) on Purim night. Several of Dr. Brody’s students have actually lained the whole Megillah by themselves, or shared the reading with one or two other alumni, at various shuls (synagogues), nursing homes or private individual homes.
The most exciting, but dangerous, Megillah reading experience of all for Dr. Brody occurred during a three-person mission in 1985 to smuggle in Judaica objects and meet with many Jewish Refuseniks. Dr. Brody illegally chanted the Megillah in the majestic Great Synagogue of Leningrad, which was prohibited by the Communist Soviet government. He could have been imprisoned or deported from the country. Dr. Brody was told that several of the “Gabbaim” (sextons) were actually members of the KGB. “ Better read than dead!!” Dr. Brody figured.
—Submitted by the North Shore Hebrew Academy