Purim celebration asks, “How diverse can Jews be?”

Come March 16, the somewhat tired refrain “Funny, you don’t look Jewish” can be put out to pasture for good.

On that day, locally founded group Be’chol Lashon holds its first Purim festival, opening a door to the Jewish community for black, Asian and Latino Jews, among others.

The group was founded 10 years ago as an initiative of San Francisco’s Institute for Jewish and Community Research. Founding director Diane Tobin said her group has held large, free events on Chanukah and Shavuot in the past, but this is the first Purim fest for Be’chol Lashon, Hebrew for “in every tongue.”

Rabbi Capers Funnye – who notes that he “has the boring job of reading the Megillah and explaining Esther’s role in saving the Jewish people” – hopes the estimated 400 attendees at the San Francisco event will “enjoy themselves and preferably get more into Torah and maybe even want to visit the shul for Purim.”

That’s how it went for him.

Funnye is the senior rabbi at the Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Chicago; he converted to Judaism in 1972.

“The overriding message is there are a lot of unaffiliated Jews who are not part of the federation network or the mainstream synagogue network. What the [institute] has devised is a place for these various Jewish families who are very much on the fringes,- he said.

“They’ve adopted African American children or are transgendered, gays or lesbians, and we’re trying to say, you do have a place. Be’chol can be a place we all come together.”

Tobin says many Jews use her organization as a springboard into mainstream Judaism.

“Our goal is to grow the Jewish community,” she said.

“In this world in which we live, which is increasingly more global, younger people in particular feel more attracted to Judaism when it’s more expansive and inclusive.”

Oh, one more thing: There’ll be a Brazilian marshal arts workshop for the kids. It doesn’t get much more expansive than that.

The Be’chol Lashon Purim festival will start at 1 p.m. March 16 at the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St., S.F. Free. Information: Diane Tobin (415) 386-2604.


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