When Rochel Butman of Chabad-Lubavitch of New Rochelle, N.Y., learned that the COVID-19 coronavirus was at her doorstep last week, her mind buzzed.

“What will be with Purim?” she asked herself.

A joyous holiday full of family cheer, synagogue get-togethers and gifting food packages to one another all day long, Purim can be beyond challenging in the throes of a community-wide quarantine.

Which is precisely the challenge facing the tight-knit Jewish community in New Rochelle. Young Israel of New Rochelle, a central community institution, has recently been rocked with multiple cases of the new scourge. With so much about the coronavirus still unknown and its spread difficult to predict, local officials with full cooperation of synagogue leaders requested that all members of the congregation, including the rabbi, self-quarantine for 14 days.

So, what to do about Purim festivities?

More specifically, gathering to hear the Megillah, the trademark of the holiday, presents a unique challenge. Read in public from a traditional parchment scroll, this annual mitzvah can only be fulfilled the old-fashioned way—hearing it in person from a trained Megillah reader.

While theoretical discussions abound in Torah-study halls and online about the legitimacy of hearing the Megillah over the phone or via other digital means, what’s certain is that it must be read live and in person.

So, what will be with the hundreds of families in New Rochelle? How will they hear the Megillah?

Mobile Mitzvah Squads

This question galvanized Butman. Not letting a virus get in her way, she hatched a plan: Let’s bring the Megillah to the people!

To her good fortune, the neighboring township of Hastings is home to a Chabad yeshivah, headed by Rabbi Zalman Heller. Rochel contacted the yeshivah administration and asked if they could help out. They agreed, and a new slew of mitzvahs are on the docket for this Purim.

Here’s the plan: Twenty pairs of young rabbis will converge on the neighborhood. They will be given detailed routes of hyper-local areas that they will each cover, going from house to house to read the Megillah for those who are quarantined inside.

After consulting with medical professionals and ensuring that all will be safe, the young rabbis plan to stand outside the homes at a distance of at least 10 feet, and read aloud for those inside through open doors and windows.

In the spirit of the holiday and in an effort to fulfill yet one more mitzvah of the day, they will be equipped with small mishloach manot packages to leave on front lawns, at side doors and any other safe distance.

Chabad Saved Purim’

This is quite an effort, and thankfully, Butman is not alone. Chabad.org spoke with one of the volunteers, who is in quarantine herself with her family.

“I have lived here for quite some time and been very much involved in the Young Israel community. When Rochel told me about her idea, I volunteered to help arrange the routes for the young rabbis so they can go on foot from house to house and give everyone the chance to hear the Megillah,” she says.

“The response has really been incredible, and people are so appreciative that Chabad is doing this. We already have 120 individual homes signed up, and we expect more as the holiday comes in. All efforts have been coordinated with the shul, and the rabbi and president are grateful to Chabad for their efforts.”

The quarantine has, of course, presented other challenges as well. “But we’re making it work,” she says. “The children are busy online, and thank goodness for delivery services for basic commodities.”

So while it’s true that Amazon and Walmart can pretty much cover anything needed while holed up at home for two weeks, to date, Amazon hasn’t yet figured out how to deliver a young rabbi (within a safe distance of) a home with a Megillah in hand for Purim.

For that, the local efforts of concerned leaders like Butman are needed.

As the volunteer told Chabad.org, “The whole community really feels that this year, Chabad saved Purim.”