Once again, on Purim Day, as for the past 10 years, the students of the Middle School of the North Shore Hebrew Academy (NSHA), of Great Neck, Long Island, will be present on a mandatory day of attendance. However, they will, by and large, be attending very willingly and enthusiastically. In fact, many will be accompanied by their parents and siblings. Twenty-three boys, from the 7th and 8th grades, will chant their respective portions of Megillat Esther for their fellow students and faculty so that all will fulfill the mitzvah of Kriat Megillah.
Dr. Paul Brody, a Dermatologist by profession, 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 23 students, Dr. Brody has taught the melody and cantillation of Megillat Esther to approximately 150 students during the past eleven years, putting into fruition a plan conceived by Rabbi Dr. Michael Reichel who was then the principal of the Middle School. This student-led Megillah reading tradition has been continued under the guiding hand of the current Middle School Principal, Rabbi Jeffrey Kobrin and Assistant Principal, Rabbi Adam Acobas, – with the blessings of the NSHA Dean, Rabbi Yeshayahu Greenfeld – who help to coordinate the schedule with Dr. Brody.
The Megillah readers are comprised of both Ashkenazic and Sephardic students which reflects the make-up of the Academy and the Great Neck community. Each student reads using the melody of his own tradition. The students meet with Dr. Brody, on a rotating basis, to practice their newly learned skills, which pose a substantial challenge when trying to balance their other academic and social responsibilities.
Dr. Brody is embarking upon his 40th year of reciting the Megillah. He is looking forward to reading this year at his shul, the Great Neck Synagogue, for the 17th year.
Last Purim, 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 the room for this special reading, one day before Dr. Brody underwent a successful quadruple by-pass procedure. Imagine the emotional moment when his very own students, from different years of his instruction, came to read the Megillah for him. It was very inspirational and gave Dr. Brody great chizuk. These dedicated students included Elie Flatow, Bailey Greszes, brothers Adam and Josh Hecht, and brothers Russel and Eli Mendelson. Speaking to the Jewish Voice on behalf of himself and his family, Dr. Brody and his family expressed their profound gratitude to these unique students and to Isaac Greszes and Joey Hecht for initiating and coordinating this magnanimous effort, with the blessings of Rabbis Greenfeld and Kobrin.
Dr. Brody was instructed in the basics of the fine art of Megillah reading at the Cantorial Training Institute (C.T.I., later renamed 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 grandfather, Rabbi Jacob Brown zt”l, that the task was not insurmountable. As an expression hakarat hatov (grateful recognition), Dr. Brody adorns his Zayde’s tallit (prayer shawl) each time he reads the Megillah. He has dedicated, with his wife and children, 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 long time mentor and Rav, Rabbi Dr. Jerome Acker, his long-time 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 historic events occurring during the reading.
Brody’s most exciting Megillah-related experience, however (and easily the most dangerous), was reading the Megillah illegally in 1985 at the Great Synagogue in Leningrad 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 I was concerned,” says Brody, “it was better ‘read’ than dead!”
His favorite Megillah scroll, which he utilizes when he chants the Purim reading, is one that was presented to him by the saintly Rabbi Yitzchok David Grossman, founder and Dean of Israel’s Migdal Ohr institutions (known to many as the “Disco Rabbi” on account of his work in Jewish outreach, much of which took place in such secular venues as dance clubs) 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 “Ha’Melech” (the King) and adorned by the unique and ornate crown of a king.
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—”M’dor l’dor.” In fact, several NSHA alumni of this program have started to read independently at various locales. Craig Resmovits, Elie Flatow, and Russel and Eli Mendelson have lained the past few years at various minyanim at the Great Neck Synagogue. Josh Mogilner, in the past, 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 co-ordinate 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 reading the “Gantze Megillah!”