Yesterday we celebrated Purim. Purim is a fascinating day in which we see a whole array of ritual practices. Among the rituals of the day are reading the Megilah, saying additions to the prayers and the grace after meals, giving to the needy, having a festive meal, and giving food to each other fit for that meal. It seems that these last two rituals are similar. Why do we see sharing food for a meal as distinct from eating that big meal? Why not just have a bigger meal? Why not just invite two more people to your meal?
It is not surprising to see food as the media of choice for a ritual. We do love our food. In many respects we are preserving the memory with all of this eating. At its core Purim is a celebration of the vitality of the Jewish People all over the world. But there is no way to find a table big enough for the entire Jewish people to have a meal together. In reality as much as we talk about living in a community; we all live in many communities. So while we have a mitzvah to sit and eat and remember, we also have an extra mitzvah of giving these gifts of food. This act links these communities. It gets even more interesting when you realize that today Purim is being celebrated in cities that had walls in the time of Joshua (aka Jerusalem). The network gets really complex. Through eating and giving food we each can connect to the network of Jewish tables. And for those of us who saw Avatar, Mishloach Manot are our own Kugel-based Pandora. This mitzvah is compelling in that it makes us think about how we build community year round.
It would be an interesting game of connecting the dots if we were to map out how this network of Mishloach Manot was connected on Purim. Thanks to a grant from Avi Chai this past summer I attended Games for Change. This is a wonderful conference on using games for education and social change. There I learned about Macon Money. Macon Money is a community-wide social game designed for the residents of Macon, Georgia. Using a new local currency with a fun twist, the game builds person-to-person connections throughout the community while supporting local businesses. This game seemed to have been an amazing way to create positive incentives around the people of Macon building community. I would encourage you to learn more about how the game worked. In addition to giving its participants the feeling of community it produced amazing data.
I am not trying to limit our imagination about Purim to a large social game like Macon Money, but you have to admit that there are some similarities and they are both fun. I have no doubt that if you mapped out the Mishloach Manot from your community it would look like this data from Macon Money.
In addition, there is no doubt that realizing this network on Purim has an effect on community throughout the year. What would it look like to play a version of Macon Money in a local Jewish community? How might this change how we think about and even do community throughout the year?
What would it look like as an experiment to take some money out of core allocations from our local Federations and give that money to the users to create community and let them use this communal currency to “play Jewish community”? I am not only interested in making participation fun, I am also interested in inverting how we spend our time and money. What would it look like for agencies to be spending less energy, money, and time arguing and reporting on the importance of their work to the people who volunteer and work at Federations and more time reaching out to people to use their services and participate in the community? The work of Federation is serious work, but this does not mean we should overlook the value of games. Nor am I not overlooking the fact that games can craft serious fun, but this kind of game is important because the game mechanics themselves create incentives for the desired behavior at every level .
Purim itself is named after a lottery game. I am not suggesting that we leave the future of our community up to chance. I realize that there might be a risk of putting this spending power in the hands of the players, but this will all being happening within the larger planning process for a community or what the players call the rules of the game. But structuring this like Macon Money ensures that our communal currency is current and up to date with their changing needs of our community.
Near the end of the Megilah we read:
29 Then Esther the queen, the daughter of Avihail, and Mordecai the Jew, wrote down all the acts of power, to confirm this second letter of Purim. 30 And he sent letters unto all the Jews, to the hundred twenty and seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, with words of peace and truth (Esther 9: 29-30)
While much of the story of Purim happens in Shushan, it is not limited to the local level. If this Macon Money experiment worked on the local level, it might be interesting to see how this kind of game might play out (pun intended) on the global level. What would the impact of current communal currency have on our thinking on the Global Planning Table?
Like the pending genocide of Purim story to many people in the organized Jewish community the future seems bleak. While this might be fell founded this doom and gloom narrative is not the right way to invite to people to join in and participate in the community. Our future is way to serious to not have fun with it. It is time to play. Chag Purim Sameakh.