This year, the message of Purim is perhaps more resonant than ever.

When Haman set out in ancient Persia to enact his genocidal plan to exterminate the Jews in King Ahasuerus’s 127 territories, Jews throughout the lands, led by Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, turned to G‑d. But they could not do it alone. When Haman claimed that the Jews were “spread and scattered” among the nations, Esther asked Mordechai to “go and assemble all of the Jews.” As a result, every man, woman and child of the Jewish people gathered as one in prayer to the Almighty, and in doing so, successfully annulled the evil decree hanging over the Jewish people.

Today, in the wake of the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, that same banding together of the Jewish people is happening throughout the world.

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One such instance is Chabad-Lubavitch’s enhanced Purim Awareness Campaigntaking place across Israel. A key area of focus is bringing the joy and observances of Purim to army bases.

“They’re risking their lives for us,” Shmuly Wudowsky, a senior student at Yeshivas Tzeirei Hashluchim in Tzfat, told Chabad.org. “The least we can do is try to provide a spark of enjoyment to these literal heroes who are fighting to protect us.”

Wudowsky, in conjunction with 60 of his classmates, is coordinating efforts to reach as many Jews as possible on and around Purim. Efforts are already well underway, with thousands of mishloach manot packages ready to go.

This is part of the much larger Purim Awareness Campaign. In 1971, the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—called upon people in Israel to assist the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to fulfill the observances of Purim. Chabad activists immediately began fanning out across the Land of Israel, bringing the joy of Purim to soldiers on large army bases in the Golan Heights and tiny installations on the Suez Canal deep on the Sinai Peninsula.

“Hasidic Jews in black hats, with beards and prayer shawls, swarmed into front-line fortifications and military camps yesterday and the day before, uncapping a thousand bottles of vodka,” The New York Times reported in 1975. “The ‘invasion’ has been ordered by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Brooklyn, spiritual leader of the Lubavitcher” Chassidic movement.

The Times reported that the Israeli Air Force provided a transport plane to fly Chassidim to the Sinai, from which they spread out via bus and ammunition carriers. “In at least one case, an armored troop carrier took 10 [Chassidim] and a reporter to a front-line observation post on the crest of a dune that could not be reached by bus.”

A similar effort was seen in the north and east, where the army ferried Chassidim to reach soldiers stationed at fortifications facing Syria and Jordan. In addition to the vodka, the Times reported that the Chassidim carried with them 50,000 mishloach manot packages. “But their instructions from the Lubavitcher rabbi were not only to convey cheer, love and warmth to the Israeli soldiers but also to get them to perform mitzvoth, or good deeds.”

In the 53 years since it began, the Purim campaign has expanded to reach all Jews, and today uplifts and empowers people at hospitals, nursing homes, schools and even in the streets.

Once again this year, yeshivah students will embark to provide unwavering support for the Jewish military heroes of our time, bringing the joy and mitzvot of the festival to the young men and women celebrating without their families while serving their country and people.

Efforts are well underway with thousands of mishloach manot packages ready to go.
Efforts are well underway with thousands of mishloach manot packages ready to go.

Not Just for Those on Army Bases

According to Rabbi Netanel Tsiony, who co-directs Chabad Youth of Yokne’am Illit with his wife, Nechama, many people across Israel are struggling with how to celebrate Purim this year.

“Some people think that we have to be sad and serious this Purim,” he told Chabad.org. “In the wake of the war, with so many people killed and so much still uncertain, there is a feeling that the best way to ‘celebrate’ Purim this year is with contrition and solemnity.”

But for him, bringing the joy of Purim and the messaging of the festival to the masses is the best antidote for such malaise.

“We are here to tell them that, especially after what happened, Jews have to come together and look to the past on how to pave the future,” he said, referring to the miraculous deliverance of the Jews of ancient Persia in the story of Purim. He also pointed out that by turning to their faith in days of old, the Jews brought about their sudden and inexplicable salvation.

Tsiony will be setting up a tent outside the main mall in Yokne’am, and from there, will conduct Megillah readings on the hour, distributing mishloach manot as well as help people fulfill the mitzvah of matanot la-evyonim.

As Tsiony was describing his Purim preparations, the conversation was cut short when someone approached him asking when he could hear the Megillah reading on Sunday.

“Every hour outside the mall,” the rabbi responded with a big smile.

“Every hour?!” the man exclaimed. “I’ll make sure to tell my entire family!”

This year, yeshivah students will embark to provide support for the Jewish military heroes of our time, bringing the joy and mitzvot of the festival.
This year, yeshivah students will embark to provide support for the Jewish military heroes of our time, bringing the joy and mitzvot of the festival.

Lifting Their Spirits

For Wudowsky, in addition to helping soldiers fulfill the four mitzvahs of the day (hearing the Megillah, gifting mishloach manot, giving charity and feasting), he knows the very presence of energetic young visitors puts a pep in every soldier’s step.

“Just three weeks ago, a soldier was tragically killed in the Pikud Tzafon army base in a missile attack. We are visiting them with mishloach manot and pizza—just to be there for them,” he explains.

All these efforts are leading up to the day of Purim, with events planned at more than 50 army bases across the country, all of which are coordinated with army chaplains who seek Chabad’s visits.

This is, of course, in addition to spontaneous singing and dancing with soldiers passed on the streets. It’s a common sight in Israel to see soldiers waiting by bus stops along well-traveled routes, and Wudowsky and company plan to stop whenever he sees the familiar army fatigues. “While most of our stops are pre-arranged with army chaplains, we hope to find as many soldiers as we can along the way,” he said.

The yeshivah also has plans to visit hotels in northern Israel that are housing displaced refugee families from the Lebanon border.

Impact on Soldiers and Across the Globe

Partnering with benefactors throughout the world to raise funds for their activities, Wudowsky details the benefits for everyone involved.

“A lot of overseas communities are eager to be involved in helping those in the IDF. And, of course, the soldiers are so thankful to know that the Jewish nation truly cares,” he said.

The impact of the visits to the soldiers and officers of the IDF cannot be understated.

In 1982, during Israel’s war with Lebanon, mitzvah tanks received special dispensation to visit the IDF at the frontlines of the conflict. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations at the time, explained that these visits “sustain the heart [of the Jewish people] with Jewish love, Jewish spirit [and] Jewish faith.”

Recalling his time as an officer, Netanyahu said: “I remember when Chabad came, they lifted my spirits, the spirits of my soldiers, my fellow officers.”

Today, as Israel is again in a time of war, the need for this kind of special attention has never been more pronounced. And with Wudowsky and his cohort scaling up their efforts this year to involve barbecues and pizza parties, those effects are sure to continue no matter the location.

“We went to a base where soldiers are on the verge of war any day. They are so very, very happy to receive the visits and a distraction,” Wudowsky said.

 The very presence of energetic young visitors puts a pep in every soldier’s step.
The very presence of energetic young visitors puts a pep in every soldier’s step.

Risking Their Well-Being for the Cause

At a farbrengen in 1971, upon hearing of the safe return of those who went to army bases after bringing the joyous Purim spirit to those soldiers risking their lives, the Rebbe literally wept from emotion. For those in Israel today, the danger is no less.

Wudowsky recalls one night of Chanukah: “We were all excited for our pizza party on an army base, and we arrived with our ovens and pizzas ready to go, when all of a sudden we were sent packing as missiles started targeting that very location.”

When Wudowsky was asked why he and his fellow yeshivah students, as well as volunteers across Israel, risk life and limb to spend Purim on the road visiting soldiers, he responded commensurate with the Rebbe’s emotion: “The world was created for a reason and the Rebbe had a vision of how to reach the end goal. The fact that we can be a small part of that bigger picture gets us going in the morning.”

Moshe New contributed to this article.