What would have been the 50th Jubilee year of Dr. Paul Brody of Great Neck chanting Megillat Esther, and 20 years of Dr. Brody instructing students of the North Shore Hebrew Academy (NSHA) Middle School in Great Neck, in a program he instituted in 2002 - when he observed that almost no young people knew how to read the Megillah - took a strange “twist” when he unfortunately took a slip on an icy patch, landing him in extended rehabilitation after complex surgery. Dr. Brody has instructed approximately 400 seventh and eighth-graders, both Ashkenazic and Sephardic, who have chanted Megillat Esther in a unique student-led service for their schoolmates, faculty and families, on Purim Day.
Fortunately, Dr. Brody‘s “break” occurred after the “Yeshiva Break” week, on February 1, and he was able to conduct “probers” for the eligible students - which this year including a high of 36 participants - make the recordings of the individual parts for the Ashkenazic students, and arrange for Rabbi Adam Acobas, Middle School Principal to make the Sephardic recordings. He began listening to, guiding and “fine-tuning” each student in their Megillah portion.
The program was introduced by Brody, a dermatologist by profession, in 2002. He often “davened” with the NSHA Middle School students, where his daughters attended and realized that none of the young men had any knowledge of how to chant Megillat Esther. Dr. Brody broached the idea that he would volunteer to instruct the students how to chant the Megillah. Students are enabled to read the Megillah at various synagogues, hospitals, nursing homes and private homes, for those unable to attend public readings.
Brody has read the Megillah for almost 50 years. He first chanted it in 1973 at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, under the tutelage of Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld zt”l, reading it there and at Kehillas Aderes Eliyahu (Shul of Rabbi Teitz’s zt”l) through 1993, when he and his family moved to Great Neck. He has chanted Megillat Esther at the Great Neck Synagogue ever since.
In 2019 and 2020, Dr. Brody additionally recruited and coordinated a group of his alumni students - reviewing their respective portions with them - to lain at the Great Neck Synagogue (GNS) on Purim night. It was “near-miraculous” that the young men were able to conduct the chanting of the “Gantze Megillah,” last year, just a few days before GNS entered COVID-19 lockdown mode. Several of Dr. Brody’s students have actually lained the whole Megillah by themselves, or shared the reading with one or two other alumni, at various shuls, nursing homes or private individuals’ homes. Last year, one of Dr. Brody’s students, Russel Mendelson, Esq., M.B.A. (NSHA ’07), (see photo) lained in a simultaneous service at GNS. His brother Eli (NSHA ’09) read the “Gantze Megillah” there two years ago. “When I hear about that, I kvell and ‘shep Nachat,’ exclaimed Brody.”
Two extraordinary experiences stand out in Dr. Brody’s mind. On Purim day 2011, several of his former students read for him and his family at St. Francis Hospital in Port Washington, LI. “This was the first and only time in the hospital’s long history that it granted a large meeting room for a Megillah reading. All of the room’s religious articles at the Catholic Hospital were covered over,” according to Cardiology Vice Chairman, Dr. Meyer Abittan, Dr. Brody’s cardiologist and close friend, who arranged the room for this special reading the day before Brody underwent successful by-pass surgery. It was very emotional for Dr. Brody and his family to have several of his former students chant the Megillah for him. Brody was strong enough to fill in for some of the chapters, and even lained the “Gantze Megillah” the night before for several inpatients!
The most exciting, but dangerous, Megillah reading experience of all for Dr. Brody occurred during a three-person mission in 1985 to smuggle in Judaica objects and meet with many Refuseniks. Brody chanted the Megillah illegally in the majestic Great Synagogue of Leningrad, which was prohibited by the Communist Soviet government. He was told that several of the “Gabbaim” (sextons) were actually members of the KGB. “ Better READ than dead!!” Brody figured.