Time to chill in the Purim Slow Lounge

  • Howard  Sackstein
One of my favourite components of Purim each year is the “Purim Shpiel”, a Purim tradition going back centuries, equivalent to the secular April Fool’s joke. Jewish media around the world prank their readers once a year just before Purim with a patently obvious nonsense story in homage to the tradition.
by HOWARD SACKSTEIN | Mar 12, 2020

Over the years, the SA Jewish Report has participated in this annual frivolity, producing increasingly bizarre and ridiculous stories that no normal person could ever take seriously. These include the newspaper being bought by the Gupta family – which led to us being inundated with concerned calls – and that Jacob Zuma had expropriated the Jewish old-age home at Sandringham Gardens to build a holiday home called “Nkandla of the North”.

Internationally, the Israeli press announced that Israel would give up the shekel and move to the US dollar; the Jewish Telegraph Agency ran a story that Israel was going to re-locate to Mars; and the British Jewish Chronicle announced that Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich would buy United Synagogues.

This year’s SA Jewish Report Purim Shpiel had to be so outlandish and unbelievable that an all-out effort was made to write the most implausible, preposterous story ever published. Written by Professor Shpiel Pu Rim, the newspaper announced the opening of business-class lounges at King David Schools where students could go for massages, alcohol, marijuana, and Kosher KFC while bunking maths class. To make the story even more ridiculous, there would be computer games with marksmen trained by the CSO (Community Security Organisation), the billiard room would become a coronavirus isolation ward, and Stan & Pete had narrowly missed out on the catering contract.

King David was notified of the shpiel prior to publication. We certainly didn’t ask their permission to publish, and we were aware that they were concerned that somehow the shpiel “does nothing to enhance our brand and … felt really uncomfortable with it”. We believed that the Purim Shpiel was so ridiculous, so over the top, and so nonsensical, that no reasonable person could ever take offence and would regard it as nothing more than light-hearted Purim satire.

Just to make sure that no one could ever take this Purim Shpiel seriously, the business-class lounge would be open only on Purim. But, of course, some people still just didn’t get it. Actually it may be that many people never read past the headline.

At King David school’s assembly on Friday, the SA Jewish Report came in for much abuse. People present reported to me that the paper was being accused of printing fake news, being disgraceful, and bringing the school into disrepute. Similarly, someone who clearly didn’t read or understand the Purim Shpiel launched a broadside attack on the newspaper on the Joburg Jewish Mommies Facebook page. It was a deep and long motivation into the merits of King David and the values for which the school stands.

Then came the accusations of anti-Semitism, and someone even created a convoluted argument that somehow the reference to “Zev Lupo” was, in fact, a blasphemous attack on Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik. Forgive me for not knowing the rabbi’s middle name, but I’m aware that Zev translates to “wolf” in English, as does Lupo from Latin. The criticism, to be honest, was sometimes more entertaining than the initial shpiel itself.

I asked the members of the Joburg Jewish Mommies page who felt affronted to please contact me on Facebook. Seventeen people availed themselves of this opportunity, and all of them were actually unconditionally supportive. One of them described it as “a storm in a kiddush cup”, and another told me that they wished they themselves had written it.

On a positive note, this reaction and over reaction caused so many young people to look for the article on the web and in hard copy, that we think it has spurred a new generation of pupils who would not normally visit news sites to read the news – even though this was an annual piece of satire rather than real news.

This is a wonderfully teachable moment: to teach people the lessons of Purim, to understand our culture and tradition, and to take a step back and be able to laugh at ourselves. If we can’t do that, we may have to ask the chief rabbi to cancel Purim in 2021.

There are some who thought that the Purim Shpiel touched a nerve, and was too close to home. As a proud King David graduate and great fan of both King David Linksfield and its principal, Lorraine Srage, I find this deeply offensive. The school produces quality students (I may be the one exception), most of whom are critical thinkers who are able to understand satire and take a joke. Nonetheless, I apologise to those who feel affronted by the Shpiel. That was clearly never intended. I offer myself as the butt of the joke for your own personal Purim Shpiel this year.

And so, to those few who got a little hot under the collar in reading our Purim Shpiel, we would like to offer you a free voucher to the non-existent Slow in the School Business Class Lounge at King David Sandhurst, where you can kick off your stilettos, have marijuana-infused edibles, lie back in the “messy room”, and have a good laugh at yourselves.

  • Howard Sackstein is the chairperson of the SA Jewish Report, and in his spare time is unrepentant as he impersonates Professor Shpiel Pu Rim.

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