Jewish communities the world over celebrated the holiday of Purim Tuesday with carnivals, live music and elaborate feasts, all centered around the traditional reading of the biblical Scroll of Esther.

In the touristy beach resort of Umhlanga Rocks, South Africa, Chabad-Lubavitch of the North Coast hosted a 60’s-themed Purim party that drew more than 80 revelers from Durban, just miles to the south, and as far inland as Johannesburg.

Featuring Jewish music, the party saw residents of all ages arrive in bellbottoms and tie-dyes, said Israeli expatriate Shirley Allaluf. The menu offered a smattering of outdoors food, including hamburgers, French fries and hot dogs.

Commemorating the 4th century BCE nullification of an evil decree perpetrated against the Jews of Persia, the holiday of Purim is celebrated not only by publicly reading the megillah and hosting lavish holiday feasts, but also by exchanging gifts of food to friends and distributing charity to the poor.

In the post-World War II years, observance of the Purim commandments largely fell by the wayside until the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, instructed his followers to literally take Purim celebrations to the people, organizing public megillah readings, elaborate festive gatherings, and distributions of gift packages, known in Hebrew as mishloach manot, to all Jews. Annual advertisements in major newspapers like The New York Times and millions of colorful brochures educated people about the holiday observances.

This year thousands of rabbinical students fanned out across small towns and large cities to read the megillah and to deliver millions of gift packages, especially to underserved populations, from the poor and needy to Jewish soldiers stationed at home and abroad. In prisons in the United States, Israel and Russia, where inmates couldn’t get out to attend a Purim party, students even brought the party to them.

All told, volunteers and staff working under the Chabad-Lubavitch Youth Organization in Israel alone distributed more than 500,000 packages.

In the Israeli city of Safed, groups of girls went to the homes of elderly and poor residents with packages. In addition, the network of three Colel Chabad soup kitchens in the area hosted parties for its clients.

“The efforts of the volunteers really paid off,” said Rabbi Zeev Crombie, regional director of Colel Chabad. “Those who were visited were so happy.”

In Jerusalem, where the festivities always continue a day longer, residents throughout the city made their way to scores of parties Tuesday night and Wednesday. Among them was a reading of Esther at the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies’ synagogue followed by a performance by the 26 Blue Moons Band.

Entertaining the crowds at this year’s Purim party at Chabad-Lubavitch of Peabody, Mass.
Entertaining the crowds at this year’s Purim party at Chabad-Lubavitch of Peabody, Mass.

Near and Far

On the other side of the world, Jewish teenagers in the Brazilian state of S. Paulo gathered at the Centro Judaico Novo Horizonte for a barbeque Monday night, while their parents joined other professionals for their own party the following day. The festivities were preceded by a Sunday afternoon “Mommy and Me” for more than 200 mothers and their children.

“We had a wheeled train go around the neighborhood,” said Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Noach Gansburg, the center’s co-director. “The children really enjoyed it.”

Stateside, the Ladies Home Club, a project of Chabad-Lubavitch of Peabody, Mass., hosted a Hamentashen Factory, where locals learned how to make the traditional fruit-filled triangle Purim cookie.

And in the nation’s capital, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the Washington director of American Friends of Lubavitch, celebrated Purim with White House staffers before moving over to Capitol Hill where, according to JTA, Lubavitch hosted a holiday bash for about 150 congressional aides and legislators.

Celebrations in Venice, Italy, meanwhile, fortuitously drew a crowd of unexpected foreigners. Just days before the holiday, Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Ramy Banin ran into a group of Israeli swimmers in town for a sports camp. The athletes didn’t realize that Purim was upon them.

“We organized a bus to bring them here,” said Banin, who hosted a party Monday night for about 120 Israeli students and young adults and a celebratory feast on Tuesday for 60 people. “The hallmark of Purim is to make everyone happy!”