For the past 19 years, Purim has marked a unique milestone for the North Shore Hebrew Academy (NSHA) Middle School in Great Neck. It would have been two full decades that more than 325 seventh and eighth graders, both Ashkenazic and Sephardic, have chanted Megillas Esther in a student-led service for their schoolmates, faculty, and families - had it not been for COVID-19. Dr. Paul Brody, a dermatologist by profession, introduced the program in 2002 after realized that none of the young men had any knowledge of how to chant Megillas Esther. It has since become integral in NSHA’s curriculum. Students are enabled to read the Megillah at various synagogues, hospitals, nursing homes, and private homes, for those unable to attend public readings - especially relevant for this year’s pandemic.
Brody has read the Megillah for more than 45 years, first chanting in 1973 at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, under the tutelage of Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, zt”l, and at Kehillas Aderes Eliyahu (Rabbi Teitz) through 1993, when he and his family moved to Great Neck, where he continued the tradition at the Great Neck Synagogue (GNS).
The past two years, Dr. Brody additionally recruited and coordinated a group of his alumni students - reviewing their respective portions with them - to read at the 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.
The most exciting, but dangerous, reading experience 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 were members of the KGB. “Better read than dead!” Brody figured.