Purim at Chabad

By Elisheva Rosen

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On Wednesday, March 4 and Thursday, March 5, the Jewish community celebrated the holiday of Purim. Being celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, theholiday of Purim commemorates the rescue of the Jewish nation from a planned genocide during the Persian Empire. It is considered to be one of the most joyous Jewish holidays. The four main Purim customs are: the reading of the Megillah, gift-giving of money to the poor, gift-giving of food to friends, and a seudah, or holiday feast. Additionally, another staple of Purim is to wear costumes to symbolize the overarching miracle hidden within the events of the Purim narrative. In celebration of Purim, Rutgers Chabad had two weeks of related events events for the Rutgers Jewish community.

The week before Purim, Chabad’s weekly Tuesday night J-Café event was converted into a Pre-Purim packing event. Throughout the night, students were invited to pack mishlaoch manot, or bags filled with an assortment of treats given out on Purim. This  mitzvah emphasizes the importance of community, as these gifts are distributed to friends and family. These packages must contain a minimum of two ready-to-eat food items, so that they can be immediately used for the holiday feast. The Rutgers Chabad mishloach manot packaged on Tuesday night contained candy, chocolate, hamentashen and nickels. The Hamentashen, is a traditional Jewish dessert associated with Purim. It is a triangular cookie with delicious fillings—jams, chocolate chips, and poppy seed being the most common. On the day of Purim, the mishloach manot were distributed to not only the student body, but also to Jewish patients in the local hospitals and old age homes.

In addition to observing the mishloach manot custom, first year student Maggie Klein organized a pre-Purim contest to help enable the Purim spirit on campus.  Students were encouraged to submit Purim-themed poems, songs, jokes, slogans, or pictures. The winner was to be announced at the Purim party and would have the choice between a Starbucks gift card and five free meals from the Chabad dining services. This year, Baruch Zev Silberstein was announced as the recipient at Chabad’s annual Mega Campus Purim Party.

After all of the pre-Purim programing and fun, the Chabad House welcomed the actual holiday with its annual Mega Campus Costume Purim Party on Wednesday night, March 4th. The event was run by Courtney Crosby, a member of Chabad’s student leadership board. The party began with a reading of the Book of Esther from the Megillah. Hundreds of students attended the party, both in and out of costume, to enjoy good food, good talk, and good fun. “Purim was amazing,” according to first year student Rigel Janette, “I enjoyed spending some good times with my friends.”  Besides a live DJ, students were treated to human jousting, a mechanical bull, and human bowling. As echoed by freshman Andrew Lundner, human bowling was by far the best part of the Purim party at Chabad. There was no lacking in the food provided either, as Chabad served a huge dairy buffet, popcorn, and other treats. An on-going hamentashen baking booth was even included as well. Throughout the night nearly fifty pounds of cookie dough were used by students to create hundreds of jelly, chocolate chip, lemon meringue, and assorted hamentashin.

On Purim day, March 5th, Chabad ran multiple activities for students so that they could get the entire Purim experience.  Multiple Megillah readings were also held at Chabad throughout the day on the hour instead of just at one specific time. “There were so many opportunities that it led to the overall feelings of excitement and joy,” stated first year Deborah Shamilov, “it really helped that the Megillah readings were frequent and flexible.”

Students also organized three events with Chabad to help people in the New Brunswick area celebrate Purim. Even though there was a huge blizzard on Purim this year, all three community events were well attended. Nearly a dozen students braved the treacherous snow conditions to journey to The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living in Somerset, New Jersey to celebrate Purim with the residents. Organized by sophomore Esther Esquenazi, the students handed out over seventy mishloach manot packages and costume accessories. Afterwards, the residents were invited to a Purim party in the main lounge. Lucy Mattout, a Rutgers student, played guitar and was accompanied by first year student Steve Gotlib on the harmonica. The students led the residents in songs, including the staples of classic Jewish music: Shalom Aleichem, Mishenichnas Adar, Hava Nagilah and Oseh Shalom. After the songs, Steve Gotlib performed magic tricks for the residents. “It was amazing,” exclaimed “ Esther Esquenazi, “everyone had an amazing time and the residents were so happy to have us there to help them celebrate.” Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, the scheduled Megillah reader was unable to attend. Luckily, Rabbi Shaya, Education Director at Chabad, who also drove the students to the senior living center, recited the Megillah loudly so that all the residents, including the hearing impaired, would be able to fulfil the obligation to hear the Book of Esther.

Students also ran joint Chabad-Hillel programs in the two local hospitals for Jewish patients. Rutgers students persistently walked through the snow and unplowed roads to events at Robert Wood Johnson, a mile away from the Rutgers Chabad House, and St. Peters University Hospital, which is located three blocks from Chabad. Sara Goldberg organized a Purim party for children at Robert Wood Johnson’s Student Specialized where students held a Purim seudah and sang songs with the patients.  Another group of students, led by Becca Meiner and Josh Herzfeld, delivered mishloach manot to patients at St. Peters. The students divided into three groups and visited patients throughout the hospital. “It was really special,” said senior Talia Friedman, “I group I was in was joined by a guitarist, and we went and played music in the children’s ward. They were so happy to see people come and celebrate Purim with them.”

The Purim festivities concluded with a huge seudah, Purim feast, at Rabbi Shaya’s house. “It was my first time fully celebrating purim and it was quite an unforgettable experience,” said Steve Gotlib about the party, “Everyone felt included.” At Rabbi Shaya’s students were treated to home cooked meal, lots of candy, and drinks. The students spent hours with Rabbi Shaya celebrating and singing. “You could feel the achdus [togetherness]; it was an amazing experience.”

The story of Purim, which is recorded in the Megillah and read each year, is as follows:

The King Ahasuerus kills his wife, Queen Vashti, after she disobeyed his orders to appear before the court during a party. After a lengthy search throughout the kingdom, the King chose a new queen, a Jewish woman named Esther. Esther kept her Jewish identity a secret from the king at the advice of her cousin Mordechai, the leader of the Persian Jewish community, because the King’s close adviser, Haman, hated the Jews, especially Mordecai. Haman hated Mordecai because Mordechai refused to bow to Haman and as a result, Haman convinced the King to sign an edict that would allow Haman to execute Mordecai and massacre the Jews on the 13th of Adar. When Mordecai and Esther learned of Haman’s plan to kill the Jews of Persia, they knew they needed to act. Mordecai gathered the Jewish people and led the population in three days of prayer and fasting while Esther went to the King. In Persia, there was a decree that forbade anyone from appearing before the court without permission. Esther risked her life to appear before the King uninvited to reveal her Jewish identity and for him to spare the lives of her fellow Jews. When the King Ahasuerus realized that Haman plotted to kill the Queen and her people, he sentenced Haman to death. Because a King’s edict was unable to be retracted, the King granted the Jews permission to defend themselves from their enemies. When the date of Haman’s planned massacre arrived, Adar 13th, the Jews successfully defeated all of the people who attacked them.


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