Connecticut communities prepare for a distanced Purim
By Judie Jacobson
(JTA) – In 2020, Purim began on the evening of March 9, just before the country shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus. For some Jewish communities, the holiday was the first celebrated over Zoom. For others, the typical parties gave way to more somber, hand sanitizer-soaked services, stripped of the raucousness that characterizes the holiday. By the following Shabbat, they had canceled in-person services, too.
A year later, the holiday is symbolic of one thing for everyone: an entire Jewish calendar year in which the holidays, the Shabbats and all the rituals in between have been adapted under the burden of the pandemic and its restrictions.
For some synagogues, that means a Zoom production that builds on a year of expertise
Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford is famous among locals for the clever and creative home-grown Purim shpiels that fill the Reform synagogue’s spacious sanctuary every year. Not to be deterred by the pandemic, this year the shpiel is back once again, albeit in virtual form. Free and open to the public, the celebration will include Megillah reading followed by “Chozen,” a spiel that tells the story of Esther and the victory of the Jews over their enemy, delivered in a Disney-style Frozen-inspired production of songs and reading, starring Beth Israel’s clergy and congregants.
Following the Shpiel, the celebration continues with dancing, an origami lesson, an “Olaf Show Off” reveal of snowmen, a performance by our own Klezmer Band, door prizes and more.
“We’ve come full circle with this year’s holiday of Purim,” says the congregation’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Michael Pincus. “For many of us, our Purim celebration was the last time we were all together. Then came zoom seders and remote high holidays….who would have thought that a year later we would still need to be remote. And yet, Purim 5781 will also be virtual this year. From the safety of our homes we will hear the megillah, retell the Purim story through creative songs, and be together. And in observing it this way we will be reminded of the holiday’s message of hope and courage.”
The Zoom celebration will be held on Thursday, Feb. 25 from 7-9 p.m., and is free and open to the public. For information, visit cbict.org/upcoming_events/calendar/.
Other Connecticut congregations are planning in-person services and celebrations.
Chabad of Greater Hartford is hosting “Purim Glow Party,” a drive-in family celebration featuring outdoor Megillah reading and an LED & Fire Show. Party-goers must stay in their cars, wear masks and maintain social distance. They are encouraged to come dressed in their favorite costumes – prizes will be awarded. In addition, each car will receive a Purim Kit filled with hamantaschen and misloach Manot to give to a friend. The free fun begins on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. in the parking lot of 160 Mohegan Dr. To register: chabadhartford.com, (860) 232-1116.
The drive-in format is nothing new to organizers. Just recently, the synagogue held similar drive-in for it’s annual Fire & Ice Chanukah Celebration. Organizers believe that the drive-in setup will be an opportunity to feel connected as a community while staying safely distanced.
Like Chabad, last Purim was the last holiday congregants of Shir Ami in Greenwich spent together in one place.
“Last year we had our first Purim Story Slam and it was our last in-person event in 2020. It was a fantastic evening!” read the congregation’s newsletter. “This year we’ll be on Zoom and although we won’t have the amazing food, we will have many fun and inspiring stories to share at our second annual Purim Story Slam.”
A Story Slam is a live story-telling event in which individuals share a short personal story on a particular theme. In keeping with the holiday, Shir Ami’s theme for this year’s story slam is inspired by the way Mordechai and Queen Esther found a way to foil Haman’s nefarious plan to harm the Jews. The Purim Story Slam will be held on Zoom on Friday, Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m.
Those who would like to tell a personal story that speaks about confronting adversity should contact Cantor Abramson at email@example.com.
To make my pandemic Purim more meaningful, I’m focusing on giving to the poor
By Sharon Weiss-Greenberg
(JTA) – One year ago, we were debating how to navigate Purim carnivals – not whether or not to hold them. My family dressed and attended Megillah readings with fewer than 100 people, which was considered extremely cautious at the time. By forgoing a potluck Purim meal for pizzas that were delivered and served to family units, we did not feel like we were compromising the holiday too much – and in making said minor adjustments, we were in fact going above and beyond the then gold standard to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A number of people sent corona-themed mishloach manot or dressed up like Corona beer, but we all thought that this would pass well before we had set our tables for the Passover Seder.
A year ago, the novel coronavirus that originated in China would soon sweep the globe – but it wasn’t until after we had put away our Purim groggers and costumes that we became fully aware of how dramatically cases around the world had begun to spike. Then the lockdowns began and life has never been the same.
Since Purim one year ago we have adapted and found compromises for observing and celebrating Jewish holidays. We’ve gone virtual for many rituals and services, and done our best to maintain connections, relationships and community. It seems that as we approach each holiday worrying and wondering how we can salvage the joyful, meaningful experiences.
When it comes to Purim, this feels especially painful. Not only are we one year into the pandemic, but Purim translates especially poorly to Zoom. How can we experience the cathartic joy, the downright silliness, when we are not together?
This year, let me suggest that instead of trying to recapture the raucous joy of Purim, it’s time to lean into a different, often neglected side of this holiday.
There are four mitzvot related to the holiday of Purim: reading the Megillah of Esther, eating and drinking in a festive manner, sending mishloach manot and giving to the poor.
This last should be our focus.
We will still read the Megillah and in costume, albeit virtually and/or socially distant. We should still enjoy a festive meal with our families. We can still be joyous and exhibit the tradition of “v’nahafochu,” literally “turning things upside down” by being so joyous that we cannot keep the Purim story straight, in perhaps new ways. This year, we can appreciate how wearing masks is now no longer an occasional thing but a staple of our wardrobes. On Purim, let’s make them not only protective, but also joyful and silly.
My biggest hope, however, is that we more equally distribute the focus of these four mitzvot to highlight giving to the poor. The rates of poverty have skyrocketed in the past year. Families who had jobs and enough to care for their families and give tzedakah to support others are now standing in lines at food pantries.
This year, we can take time before and during the holiday to consider the financial inequities and misfortune that have befallen our communities, including our dear friends and family. We may not be able to sing and dance together, but we can give and care for the poor, many of whom are not strangers and whose contingencies have risen. Let’s allow our experience of a pandemic Purim leave a lasting impact on the values and meaning of the holiday. Yes, we should still thoughtfully cultivate much-needed joy, but we can also pay equal attention – perhaps this year even more attention – to those who are not as fortunate.
This year my family will still dress up. We will prepare mishloach manot with cards indicating that we have made donations in lieu of lavish gifts. We will read the Megillah as a family zooming with our community.
And as a family, we will choose where to make donations, and make it clear that we are blessed and grateful to be able to have a home and food and to help others have the same. We will take the moment to laugh, eat, enjoy and be grateful for what we have and not what could have been.
Sharon Weiss-Greenberg is an assistant editor at My Jewish Learning and the director of donor relations at RAISE Advisors. She served as the first Orthodox woman chaplain at Harvard University, and holds a doctorate in education and Jewish studies from New York University.
In time for Purim…a special scroll in honor of Esther Horgen z”l
(JNS) The Israel Bible has published a new edition of the Scroll of Esther in honor of Esther Horgen, the 52-year-old mother of six murdered on Dec. 21 by a Palestinian terrorist near her Tal Menashe home. The release of the new edition comes ahead of Purim, when the Scroll of Esther, or Megillat Esther, is communally read.
The Israel Bible Scroll of Esther features uplifting poetry and illustrations by Horgen, alongside the biblical text in Hebrew and English, as well as commentary on the book of Esther, one of five Megillot included in the Bible.
“I join with you in celebrating the life of Esther, of blessed memory, in this new edition of Megillat Esther with her own, beautiful illustrations,” said Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. “How bittersweet to celebrate Purim, when we read the story of the triumph of Queen Esther over the wicked plans of [King] Ahasuerus and his adviser, the evil Haman, to annihilate the Jewish people when we are mourning the loss of dear Esther.”
“The unique light of Esther Horgen will not be extinguished,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding that he hoped the book would “serve as an eternal light for her memory.”
Esther Horgen’s family collaborated with The Israel Bible, an English-Hebrew edition of the Hebrew Bible with commentary that highlights the special relationship between the land and people of Israel. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to developing the Esther Horgen Memorial Forest and Park in Tal Menashe.
Immediately after the family concluded the week of mourning for Horgen, they went to the site of her murder in the nearby forest and planted a tree in her memory to launch the forest project, expressing their desire that the site of her killing would “remain a place of peace, not a forest of fear.”