As Jewish communities around the world prepare for the holiday of Purim, which begins on Saturday night, Chabad-Lubavitch centers are revving up for a night and day of festivities commemorating the Jewish nation’s close escape from genocide in ancient Persia 2,369 years ago.
Thousands of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and their children will be helping more Jewish people than ever to have a joyous and meaningful holiday. They will be guiding thousands who will be celebrating Purim for the first time, and in many places, as at Israel Defense Force bases, in prisons and on college campuses, Chabad will be bringing Purim to those who can’t be home for the holiday.
Final preparations are falling into place. Yeshiva students, emissaries and volunteers have already been dispatched to far-flung locales, since they must arrive at their destinations before the Sabbath in order to be there for the holiday’s start, explains Rabbi Kasriel Kastel, program director for the New York-based Lubavitch Youth Organization. Some have already arrived in towns in upstate New York, for exampole, and after the Sabbath they’ll head off to prisons to celebrate Purim with Jewish inmates.
About an hour after the Sabbath, adults and children dressed in gaily inventive costumes will gather in synagogues to hear the reading of the megillah, the dramatic chronicle featuring the heroic Queen Esther, the sage Mordechai and the wicked Haman.
On Sunday morning, grownups and children will be out in full force around the world--delivering gifts of food to friends, distributing charity to the poor, and again gathering to hear the reading of the megillah. A festive holiday meal takes place afterwards.
In Japan, they’re going to gather at Chabad of Tokyo for face painting, a balloon artist and crafts for kids; on Sunday afternoon, there will be a megillah reading, holiday buffet and performance. Cancun, Mexico will celebrate with a costume contest, megillah reading and Italian-themed dinner, along with a video of the Purim story told through sand art. The Chabad of Central Lucerne in Switzerland is presenting a “Thai-style” theme, complete with a Thai buffet, music and costume contest on Sunday afternoon.
Throughout Israel, soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces who must be on base for the holiday will have Purim brought to them by volunteers from the Chabad-Lubavitch Youth Organization of Israel. In addition, some 45 American students of Yeshivas Tzeirei HaShluchim in Safed, Israel, will join hundreds of other students from throughout Israel who will travel to army bases to help bring the festivities to the soldiers.
Chabad emissaries and rabbinical students across Israel will again take to the streets to make the holiday memorable, using “synagogues on wheels” to let army personnel hear the reading of the Scroll of Esther. Meanwhile, the Chabad of Brandon in Valrico, Florida, is encouraging community members to send Purim baskets to Israeli soldiers and to sponsor Purim parties to help them celebrate.
Chabad of Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura in California are headed for a mega-celebration at the Herzog Wine Cellars. “It’s a good opportunity to rejoice with our community and rejoice with others,” said Rabbi Aryeh Lang, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Camarillo. As for his aspirations for the day, he said: “I hope to go home with more and more friends, inspiring people to be joyous in their lives.”
Though they have held Purim events at Herzog before, this year they’re adding an outdoor carnival for kids. In the afternoon, some 60 to 100 seniors plan to join them for a Middle Eastern-themed Purim featuring an Israeli-style dinner and a letter-writing activity, where they can send letters to Israeli soldiers and write messages to be placed in Jerusalem’s Western Wall.
They will also send out community gift packages – the theme this year is coffee and tea. The packages include wrapped gifts that can be passed on to others. “It spreads the joy to people we know, and also maybe on to people we don’t know,” said Lang.
In New York City, Rabbi Yisroel Stone of Chabad of the Lower East Side is preparing for its Purim party, which on Sunday afternoon will take over an event space that used to be a bank. A megillah reading will also take place on Saturday night.
They have already begun passing out Purim packages, and are getting set for an event that, post-Hurricane Sandy, is expected to be even larger than usual. Some 350 people are expected to attend.
“This is the greatest Purim party in the city, so people know about it,” said Stone. In addition to a catered buffet dinner and open bar for adults, singer Choni Goldman is flying in from South Africa to perform. Stone is hoping that the holiday spirit with go home with the attendees: “People really feel the atmosphere on Purim; they love it, and that’s why they come back.”
Meanwhile, Seattle will warm up with “Purim in Hawaii.” Rabbi Avi Herbstman, director of Seattle Chabad Hebrew School, and Marave Herbstman, early-childhood director of the Jewish Montessori preschool, will welcome guests to an event decorated with tiki torches, a surfboard “aloha” table, pineapples and hibiscus flowers.
Everyone who attends will also get a lei, said Herbstman, who hopes that “people who just come for the megillah reading will stay for the party.” On the menu are tropical mixed drinks and salmon teriyaki, among other Hawaiian specialties, all to be savored with live music in the background.
The purpose is to publicize the miracle of Purim, she said, and the goal is to make sure the event is accessible for all. The holiday falling on Saturday night is also helpful, she said, in reaching people who might not come out on a weeknight. They seek a crowd of up to 300 people this year – up from the typical 150 to 200.
Herbstman said she hopes people leave wanting to come back: “I want this to be implanted in their minds – that this is a great community to be part of, that there’s awesome things going on over here.”