Like most Jewish kids in the 1960s. I went to an afternoon Hebrew School. I can't tell you it was a peak educational experience (though it did seem to set a course for me that I still follow), but I have some lasting memories of the sheer joy of the teachers who struggled to stuff a variety of Jewish subjects into my brain.
There seemed to be an unending stream of European and Israeli educators who could not understand why American kids did not take deep satisfaction in declension of verbs or doing reports on Jewish historical figures. (I can still remember listening to my friend Howie deliver a comprehensive account of the life of Herzl. Unfortunately, he kept referring not to "THEE-odor Herzl," but to "the-O-dor Herzl." Our English-as-a-second-or-third-language teacher could not understand our hilarity.
But when I was in sixth or seventh grade, a new teacher came into our school. His name was Zidkiyahu Chady (with a cher), and when he arrived from Israel to pursue both teaching and an advanced degree, he tried to introduce himself as Sidney. It didn't take. But Mr. Chady loved Hebrew, and even to those of us who resisted tenses and constructs like the plague that love came through. Mr. Chady clearly thought in Hebrew, and I learned a lot about Hebrew idioms listening to him translate them into English.
Most memorable was the way Mr. Chady tried to bribe us into learning. He promised that if our small group of "advanced Hebrew students" could master certain vocabulary or possessive suffixes. we could "make happy." It took all of three seconds for us to develop our own barter skills for time to "make happy." So with the pinky ball or Frisbee someone inevitably brought to class, we and Mr. Chady would "make happy."
Mr. Chady became Dr. Chady and a terrific Hebrew teacher in time and inspired a generation of students on many levels. But for all of his initial inexperience, he knew the essential ingredient not just in learning, but in life: Make happy.
Purim will be here at the end of this month, and we invite you to come to the festivities on Saturday night, February 27 and Sunday, February 28 dressed as your favorite character from the Bible. (Be creative...and stick to OUR Bible.) But whether you dress up or don't, whether you come for the megillah reading or the carnival, whether you like prune, poppy seed or apricot, take the opportunity to observe the holiday that reminds us to "make happy." The lesson of Purim is the lesson of joy, and in the exhausting world we inhabit, it is not such bad advice to make more happy.