‘Musically inclined,” Dr. Paul Brody learned to chant the Scroll of Esther, or at least part of the Megillah, while studying at Yeshiva University several decades ago. He picked up the basics at the school’s Cantorial Training Institute. Then his grandfather, Rabbi Jacob Brown, convinced him to learn how to layn the gantze Megillah, the entire scroll.
“Once I started reading it,” chanting the Megillah for the first time at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, “I enjoyed it,” says Brody, a Great Neck, L.I., dermatologist and a parent of North Shore Hebrew Academy students for 15 years.
Now, he’s teaching other young men to read the Megillah.
In the past eight years, he taught the skill to 88 middle school students, Ashkenazic and Sephardic, at the Hebrew Academy. This year, he taught 21 more.
The students take turns chanting sections at the Megillah reading held at the school, where attendance is mandatory on Purim, which starts Monday night.
“I thought there is a dearth of Megillah readers in the Jewish community,” says Brody, AGE, with some of this year’s students. “Very few people know how to read the Megillah,” which is considered “a challenge. It’s not easy.”
It becomes easier each year to find Hebrew Academy students interested in learning the skill. “It’s become chic,” the doctor says. His students learn for 15 minutes once a week after morning worship services.
This year’s lessons started in January.
Some of his past students read the Megillah in various local congregations around the New York area, and in hospitals.
Brody has layned in Israel, and one memorable year before the fall of the Iron Curtain, in Leningrad. Some of the men in the Leningrad synagogue that day, he’s sure, were KGB. “Better read than dead,” he thought.
These days, he listens to his students at the Hebrew Academy read the Megillah on Purim. “Every year, when they do it, I do it with them,” he says. “I kvell.”