Tens of thousands of Israelis flock to festive, experiential Purim celebrations
Purim is a holiday that all Israeli Jews look forward to; it’s fun and festive for adults and children alike. However, many secular Israeli Jews don’t feel comfortable in the synagogue, and therefore miss out on the opportunity to hear the megilla. Their children may dress in costume and attend Purim parties, but they never learn about the meaning and values at the heart of the holiday – and at the heart of their own Jewish heritage.
“Megilla BaKehilla” (literally, “Megilla reading within the community”) was established by the Yachad Program for Jewish Identity 13 years ago to bring the central symbols and traditions of Purim out of the synagogue and into the public realm, so that this secular population can comfortably engage in and explore their Jewish roots.
For the past 11 years, Yachad has partnered with the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization in order to reach even greater numbers of communities, and this year, thanks to teams of volunteers from Eilat in the south to Katzrin in the north, there were 500 megilla reading stations held in community centers, gyms, parks and other public locations where people of all Jewish backgrounds feel welcome, reaching more than 50,000 people.
“Perhaps one of the most remarkable things that has emerged in recent weeks from the war in Ukraine is the response of solidarity, compassion, and support of Jews from all walks of life with the refugees fleeing the violence,” said Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone. “Coming together as a community is a powerful Jewish experience that has contributed to our survival over the generations, and we are deeply proud to come together once again for Purim, a holiday built upon that sense of community and solidarity.”
“It was exciting to hear the megillah together with families from many different neighborhoods,” confirmed Asher Koren, a resident of Hod Hasharon. “We are all so different, work in different jobs and travel in different circles, yet we all came together to celebrate this narrative that we all share.”
Connecting People to a Judaism that is Deep and Experiential
In addition to enjoying festive Megilla readings punctuated by explanation and song, participants in “Megilla BaKehila” received free megillot and mishloach manot packages with treats and games for the children.
“I don’t know where to begin to thank you for bringing so much joy and richness into our Purim experience,” said Yokneam resident Marina Gloyberman, who attended the program that was moved from her local park to the local community center because of the rain. “My son laughed, sang and danced, and had a wonderful time. You created such a meaningful event and really touched our hearts.”
Yachad Program director Rabbi Shay Nave noted, “Our goal, as always, is to make sure that the holiday is relevant for those who might not typically come to services but nonetheless want to connect to our national traditions and heritage. Our ancient traditions deserve to be embraced and enjoyed by all.”
According to testimony from participants, this goal is being met. “Yachad programs like ‘Megilla BaKehilla’ help me connect to a Judaism that is deep and experiential,” shared David Reychani of Jerusalem. “This is how I engage with my Jewish and Israeli identity, and it enables me to feel connected both to my community and to something larger than myself.”
“Every year, it’s especially meaningful to witness those people who are hearing the megilla for the very first time in their lives,” said Naama Tzafnick of Hazor HaGlilit, one of the Yachad Program’s 34 Jewish Cultural Facilitators working through the community centers of cities across Israel throughout the year. “This year, I was particularly moved by the experience of one of our community volunteers, who attended with his wife and two children. It was the first time any of them had heard the megilla, they had never experienced anything like it, and they listened with great excitement, waiting for each time the name of ‘Haman’ was recited so they could shout boos and stamp their feet along with everyone else. When they left, they thanked me for the opportunity to participate and told me how eager they were to start making up for lost time in terms of establishing a meaningful relationship with their heritage.”