In New York City, Rabbi Dov Yona and Sara Korn, co-directors of Chabad House Bowery, have been getting students and young professionals revved up for Purim over the past month. They’ve been working with their communities on raising funds for the needy and talking about the central themes of the holiday, especially joy.
“We’re celebrating G‑d, we’re celebrating the Jewish mission, we’re celebrating the fact that we’re alive, we’re celebrating the miracle of our existence and the fact that the Almighty keeps us here for a purpose, and that’s something we should think about every day,” the rabbi tells Chabad.org. “Purim is all about authentic joy.”
The holiday of Purim, which starts this year after Shabbat on March 11 and lasts through Sunday, March 12 (in Jerusalem, Shushan Purim is celebrated the next day, on Monday, March 13) celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from the wicked Haman in the days of Queen Esther of Persia.
Chabad centers around the world—in 91 countries, to be exact—are getting ready to bring their communities together for family-friendly festivities and opportunities to complete the four central mitzvahs of the holiday: hearing the book of Esther read aloud (Megillah), sending gifts of food to friends and neighbors (mishloach manot), giving gifts to the poor (matanot levyonim) and eating a festive meal (seudah).
Some 300 to 500 university students will enjoy a Purim party before heading off for spring break, while young professionals will meet for a royal feast on Sunday at the Chabad House. The fact that Purim falls over a weekend is optimal, says Korn; the crowds are larger. “We’re hosting people in a very fast-paced city, where partying is the norm, and trying to make it a holy party,” he says. “This is a chance for us to pause for a true celebration.”
Cartoonist, Comedy, Caricaturist
Roll out the red carpet and bring on the paparazzi: Rabbi Mendel Simons, director of the Young Jewish Professionals in Los Angeles, is getting ready to host an Oscars-worthy evening on Saturday night.
Rabbi Moshe Greenwald of Chabad of Downtown Los Angeles, left, and Rabbi Mendel Simons of the Young Jewish Professionals are co-hosting this year’s YJP event in LA. (Photo: David Miller)
He and his wife, YJP co-director Rachael Simons, plan to welcome a whopping 600 people to the upscale Continental Club for a night of Purim festivities themed around Hollywood of yore. The event is being co-hosted by Rabbi Moshe and Rivky Greenwald, co-directors of Chabad of Downtown Los Angeles.
Guests will have the chance to meet, socialize, network and connect. A Megillah reading will take place every hour on the half-hour, with a cartoonist sketching the Purim story as it is being read to engage listeners. Attendees will come away with a bag of gift cards from event sponsors, as well as food items and a note from YJP thanking them for coming and asking them to fulfill another mitzvah by sharing the bag with a friend the next day.
“The goal is to learn about the holiday, the value behind it, and to give them the ability to take an action to fulfill a mitzvah themselves,” says Rabbi Simons. “We want people to walk away feeling very proud to be Jewish and part of the Jewish community.”
Some 30 percent of attendees are likely to be new to Chabad, he adds. Once they see what the group has to offer, many are likely to return for other programs, including classes. “They’re more open in the future to experiencing something spiritual and Jewish,” he says, “because the same organization that hosted that party is hosting that Shabbat dinner or holiday program.”
New Faces in Town
Rabbi Nochum and Chyena Yusewitz, who are just starting Chabad of Grass Valley, Calif., look forward to their very first Purim party, to be held here at the Foothills Event Center.
A few hundred miles away, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Chabad of Grass Valley, Calif., has comedy on the menu as it holds its very first Purim party on Sunday. The event, featuring a Jewish comedian and a clown, is expected to draw 100 people for the Megillah reading, festive meal and performances.
Rabbi Nochum and Chyena Yusewitz, co-directors of the new Chabad House, describe the community as a mix of young couples, growing families and retirees. They are in the process of moving from Brooklyn, N.Y., to put down permanent roots as emissaries there.
“We thought laughter would be a good way of getting people into the spirit of Purim and rejoicing,” says the rabbi. “People are really responding; they’re excited about it.” All who come dressed in costume will be eligible for a raffle, with clown noses, attachable mustaches and masks on hand for anyone who wants to get into the holiday spirit.
He wants the event to serve as a calling card for the new center, letting people know there’s a place for them to learn, pray and socialize—a welcoming place to grow in Yiddishkeit.
Chyena Yusewitz says they’re in the midst of preparing salads, dips and a hot buffet with fish, rice and vegetables for their health-minded community. “We’re giving it all we’ve got, leaving no stone unturned to make it memorable from all angles. I’m especially looking forward to meeting new people and hope this serves as a wonderful beginning.”
Tags display items that will be on the menu at the Chabad of Grass Valley Purim meal, featuring healthy and organic food typical of California preferences.
Head for the Hills!
Rabbi Meir Simon, youth director for the Chabad Jewish Center of South Metro Denver in Lone Tree, Colo., is headed for the hills this Purim, quite literally. The Megillah reading and meal planned for area teens on Sunday also comes with a hike.
His wife, youth co-director Sarah Simon, will meet them at picnic tables partway through the trek on a nearby bluff for the meal, after which they’ll pick up and continue on their way.
The rabbi, who has been busily sending texts inviting people to the event, wants participants to come away with real knowledge about the holiday, which isn’t celebrated as widely as Passover and Chanukah. “It’s especially important,” he contends, “because Purim is not a classic American holiday.”
He says he also wants teens to leave with a lesson about being strong in their convictions. “They’re in public high school; they’re not more than 1 percent of the student body here. So there’s a strong lesson from the story of Purim—not to bow down to anything you shouldn’t, even if everyone else is.”
‘Highlight of the Year’
In Little Rock, Ark., Rabbi Pinchus and Esther Hadassah Ciment, who co-direct Lubavitch of Arkansas, will hold a special Shabbat program that will lead into Purim, with a Megillah reading on Saturday night and a small party, and then another reading on Sunday morning before the main event. “It’s become one of the highlights of the year, where young and old come together for a masquerade party,” according to the couple, now in their 25th year serving Jews in the state.
Rabbi Pinchus Ciment, left, co-director of Lubavitch of Arkansas in Little Rock for the past 25 years, enjoys one-on-one time with a community member at a prior Purim party.
Without a kosher bakery, deli or commercial catering company in sight, all the food is homemade, notes the rabbi, taking care to mention the popular poppy-seed hamantaschen.
This year’s celebration, which tends to draw more than 100 people, will include a caricaturist, and feature boys from their mechina/preparatory school—a yeshivah junior high school for boys from smaller communities who attend before they head off to yeshivah high schools—who will share lighthearted Torah wisdom with the crowd.
Students and businesspeople, singles and families will celebrate their shared heritage, depicted in the story of Queen Esther and the survival of the Jewish people. “Especially during these times, when people want to feel happy,” says the rabbi, “they can do so by remembering that the Jewish destiny is one of success.”
Lightstone wraps tefillin last year at SXSW in Austin. He, his wife and the Levertovs have been hosting electronics-free Shabbat dinners at the festival since 2010, and this year, a Purim party is also on tap.
A Shabbat dinner for 300 festival-goers, followed shortly afterwards by pedicabs and a holiday party.
Rabbi Sholom Tenenbaum stands outside the famous Folsom State Prison in California during a visit to his daughter’s Chabad center in that city. He now visits prisons in New York during Purim to celebrate the holiday with Jewish inmates.
For three decades, Rabbi Kasriel Kastel has organized programs for inmates statewide.
Rabbi Mendy Lipskier, center, started the Jewish Recovery Fellowship of Arizona in 2012 and holds alcohol-free Purim parties, like this one held a few years ago, in which the community also takes part. This year's event, themed “An Enchanting Evening of Royal Festivities,” takes place on Thursday night.
Rabbis work with Jewish addicts and alcoholics year-round, and especially on holidays.
Rabbi Benjamin Papermaster, born in Lithuania, arrived in North Dakota in 1890, where he served the majority of his career as chief rabbi of Grand Forks, N.D., until his passing in September 1934. (Photo: Kevarim.com)
19th-century rabbi’s great-great-grandson comes to help for the holiday and dig into his roots.