Here is a copy of the letter I wrote as an introduction to the text:
It is with great pride and great pleasure that I introduce our first-ever Junior High Commentary on Megillat Esther. The concept was brought to us by Rabbi Meir Maimon, the Rosh Kollel of our Kollel Torah MiTzion, based on a similar project he had done with students in Israel. Following his lead, the members of our Kollel together with our Junior High Judaic Studies faculty, dedicated many hours to guiding our students through in-depth study of the Megillah and through the process of formulating and articulating their own ideas and insights into the text.
From a pedagogical perspective, this project exemplifies many of the new approaches we are working at here at the Academy: in-depth student-driven learning, critical thinking and creativity, long-term project-based assignments, and the replacement of traditional forms of assessment like quizzes and tests with “performance-based” assessments that ask students to demonstrate what they have learned to others in the public arena.
Above all, however, we take pride in the engagement and enjoyment of Torah learning which our students exhibited through this process. The Rabbis tell us that when the Megillah states that the Jewish people had “light, happiness, and joy” in the aftermath of their victory over Haman, “light” refers to Torah study. Similarly, the Rabbis speak of a willful acceptance of Torah at this time by the Jewish people which solidified the commitment they made under duress centuries earlier at Har Sinai. Some have suggested, though, that we are not to believe that the Jewish people were not studying or observing Torah at all in the years prior to the Purim story. Rather, what the Rabbis mean to tell us is that they again found “light” in Torah. They again found enjoyment, purpose, and meaning in its study and observance.
We hope and pray that this project of our 7th and 8th grade will similarly inspire our students to continue kindling, nurturing, and expanding the light of Torah study.
Best wishes for a פורים שמח,
Rabbi Dr. Gil S. Perl, Dean