On Purim day, as for the past 11 years, the students of the Middle School of the North Shore Hebrew Academy of Great Neck will be present on a mandatory day of attendance, even though it falls on a Sunday. However, they will, by and large, be attending willingly and enthusiastically. Many will be accompanied by their parents and siblings. Twenty-six boys, from the seventh and eighth grades, will chant their respective portions of Megillas Esther for their fellow students and faculty so that all will fulfill the mitzvah of k’rias Megillah.
Dr. Paul Brody, a dermatologist by profession and a resident of Great Neck whose family was among the first Orthodox families in Kew Gardens Hills, has often davened in the morning with the middle school, which gives him the opportunity to hear many students chant the various Torah portions on Mondays and Thursdays. Besides this year’s 26 students, Dr. Brody has taught the melody and cantillation of Megillas Esther to approximately 150 students during the past 11 years, putting into fruition a plan conceived by Rabbi Dr. Michael Reichel, who was then the principal. This student-led Megillah reading tradition has been continued under the guiding hand of the current head of school, Rabbi Jeffrey Kobrin, and assistant middle school principal, Rabbi Adam Acobas, with the blessings of the NSHA dean emeritus, Rabbi Yeshayahu Greenfeld, who helped to select the readers and coordinate the schedule with Dr. Brody.
The Megillah readers are Ashkenazic and Sephardic students, reflecting the makeup of the Academy and the Great Neck community. Each student reads using the melody of his own tradition. Dr. Brody makes recordings for the Ashkenazic students. The Sephardic students are directed to Rabbi Mordechai (Moti) Kohanim, Chazzan Yakov Kashi, and Rabbi Acobas for initial recordings. The students meet with Dr. Brody on a rotating basis, to practice and review their newly learned skills, which poses a substantial challenge when trying to balance their other academic and social responsibilities.
Dr. Brody is embarking upon his 41st year of reciting the Megillah. He vividly remembers the first time he read the Megillah at the expansive Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, led by Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, where he grew up. He recalls being most grateful that he didn’t have to fast that day, since this initial reading fell on a Saturday evening! He is looking forward to reading this year at his shul, the Great Neck Synagogue, for the 18th (chai) year.
Two Purims ago, some of Dr. Brody’s former Megillah students actually read for Dr. Brody and his family at St. Francis Hospital in Port Washington. “This was the first time in the hospital’s history that it granted a large meeting room for a Megillah reading,” according to Dr. Brody’s cardiologist and close personal friend, Dr. Meyer Abittan, who arranged for this special reading, one day before Dr. Brody underwent a successful quadruple bypass procedure on Shushan Purim.
Over the years, the most dangerous experience of all for Dr. Brody was reading the Megillah illegally in 1985 at the Great Synagogue in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) during a self-initiated mission to smuggle in Judaica and meet with many Jewish refuseniks. Dr. Brody is certain that some of the “gabbaim” were actually members of the KGB! As far as he was concerned, it was “better read than dead!”
Dr. Brody was instructed in the basics of the fine art of Megillah reading at the Cantorial Training Institute (now Belz School of Jewish Music) of Yeshiva University, by Rabbi Solomon Berl, rabbi of the Young Israel of Co-Op City in the Bronx. Initially hesitant to undertake the arduous commitment of continuing to learn the entire Megillah, Dr. Brody was convinced by his maternal zayde, Rabbi Jacob Brown, of blessed memory, that the task was not insurmountable.
As a hakaras ha’tov, Dr. Brody dons his zayde’s tallis, which is now over 100 years old, each time he reads the Megillah. He has dedicated, with his wife and family, the Megillah reader section of a beautiful stained glass window, depicting Purim, at the Great Neck Synagogue, in his grandfather’s memory.
Dr. Brody learned several embellishments from a longtime mentor and rav, Rabbi Dr. Jerome Acker, his teacher at Yeshiva of Central Queens. Dr. Brody tries to keep his listeners alert by employing different voices for the different cast of characters, and by utilizing various props to depict events occurring during the reading.
Dr. Brody’s favorite Megillah scroll, which he utilizes when he chants the Purim reading, is one that was presented to him by the well-known Rabbi Yitzchok David Grossman, founder and dean of Migdal Ohr in the Galil, known by the moniker “Disco Rabbi,” in appreciation for the many efforts that Dr. Brody and his wife Drora have expended for the 7,000 underprivileged children of Migdal Ha’Emek in northern Israel. Besides the obvious sentimental value, the scroll is particularly beautiful, with virtually every column, where possible, starting with the word “HaMelech” and adorned with a unique ornate crown.
Dr. Brody is exuberant that so many young people are interested in mastering Megillah reading, especially since there has been a dearth of qualified readers until recently. This ensures the continuation of our unbreakable chain—midor l’dor. Several NSHA alumni of this program have started to read independently at various locales. Craig Resmovits, Elie Flatow, and Russel and Eli Mendelson have leined the past few years at various minyanim at the Great Neck Synagogue and Young Israel of Great Neck. Josh Mogilner has split the Megillah reading with his father, Dr. Alon Mogilner. Other alumni are reading at various youth programs. Some of these talented young men are among those that Dr. Brody has recommended to Rabbi Daniel Coleman, the chaplain of the North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, to coordinate Megillah readings for patients and their visitors. Dr. Brody sheps nachas, along with the boys’ parents, the faculty, and administration of NSHA and members of the community, when he realizes that so many young men are now capable of leining the gantze megillah! v