“Go, gather together all the Jews…” (Megillat Esther, 7:16) – Celebrating Purim Together
Though gourmet Hamantaschen make their appearance in the trendiest Israeli bakeries and everyone dresses up for the holiday, Purim for many Israelis has little meaning beyond face-painting or getting intoxicated. How can we connect Israelis with no interest in the synagogue to the richness of their history and heritage?
Though many may think that Purim is only about merry-making, spreading joy, and having a good time, Ohr Torah Stone’s Yachad Program for Jewish Identity has shown once again that the value of unity is just as integral to the holiday spirit as dressing up as your favorite superhero.
This past Purim, more than 90,000 people gathered in 535 non-synagogue locations: community centers, school auditoriums, and even local museums to hear the miraculous story of how God saved the Jewish people from a terrible fate and brought them closer to Him.. and to each other. “Megilla BaKehilla” (Hebrew for Megilla in the Community) is a joint initiative of Yachad and the Tzohar organization which encourages Israelis to come together and celebrate Purim in a way that is comfortable for everyone, regardless of their religious affiliation: young and old, secular and observant, native Israelis and immigrants, women and men.
“I don’t mind going to hear the Megilla, but I don’t feel comfortable going to a synagogue,” said Shirli Rottman from Zichron Yaakov, “I’m always worried if I’m dressed appropriately or if my kids are making too much noise. The reading I went to was at the community center; since we go there all the time, we feel comfortable coming as we are.”
OTS’s Yachad coordinators throughout Israel launched Purim celebrations on Rosh Chodesh Adar – the beginning of the Hebrew month of Adar, in which Purim falls) and, in keeping with the dictum “Mishenichnas Adar marbin be’simcha” (when Adar begins we increase our joy), they ran myriad and diverse celebrations across the country.
Thousands of teens, children and adults were involved in packaging and delivering Mishlochei Manot (food packages) to the elderly, sick and residents of sheltered housing; planning and running community parties; jam sessions for musicians incorporating texts from the Megilla; Purim-themed plays in local community centers and libraries; hamantaschen-baking workshops; costume-swap events; and many more innovative events crisscrossing the country from Eilat in the south and all the way north to the Lebanese border.
On Purim itself, in addition to the Megilla BaKehilla readings, many unique events took place such a party for children with special needs in Ashkelon that was attended by the city’s mayor, Mishloach Manot distribution for soldiers on base, a laughter-yoga workshop in Kadima, visiting hospitalized patients in Merkaz Shapira, and even a Purim singalong that took place on public buses in the Jezreel Valley.
In Katzrin, the capital of the Golan Heights, the Megilla reading took place amongst the breathtaking scenery of the Golan Museum of Antiquities, setting the tone for the story and illuminating it in an entirely new light. More than 300 participants contributed to a lively, colorful and joyous occasion. “Over the past few years, we have noticed more and more religious families also joining in the festivities, and feel that this truly brings us full circle- creating a space where people from all levels of observance can cherish and enjoy the beauty of Judaism” relayed Tzifia Mezuman, the city’s Yachad coordinator.
It’s election season in Israel, and very soon, citizens will be heading to the polls to elect a Prime Minister and members of the next Knesset. When following the news and social media it may seem like the Israeli public is more divided than ever on virtually every issue, but the message of unity that was spread on Purim through Yachad’s megillah readings and activities remind us that at the end of the day we are one people – and that together we are stronger than ever.