Jewish Long Islanders danced, sang and dressed up in costume last week to celebrate Purim, the commemoration of the survival of Jews who were marked to death by the Persian ruler Hamam in the fifth century.
The Chabad Center for Jewish Life, which serves Wantagh, Merrick and Bellmore, hosted the event at the Merrick Golf Course clubhouse on March 17. Community members had the chance to choose between two back-to-back celebratory sessions.
Many people compare Purim to Halloween, due to the festive costumes and candy. But at a Purim celebration any scary costumes or haunted themes are unlikely. Instead, one may see children dressed up as princesses, superheroes and friendly animals.
Jamie Woller brought her two children to the celebration last week so that they become familiar with the tradition. Liana, 4, chose to dress up as a butterfly, while younger sister, 22-month-old Ariela, wore an Elmo ensemble. Woller said that she’s grateful to have a close knit community on the island that comes together –– when she was growing up in Bellmore, she said, events like this did not occur.
“It’s the most exciting Jewish holiday, as opposed to a lot of them being serious,” said Woller, noting that her favorite part is seeing the kids dress up.
Upon entrance to the clubhouse, the children were given a checklist of missions to complete such as giving gifts of food to friends, listening to the Megillah, or scroll in Hebrew, giving money to those in need and eating a Purim meal.
Rabbi Shimon Kramer read the Megillah, which tells the story of Jewish deliverance in the Book of Esther. During the reading, children held groggers, or loud rattlers associated with the holiday. Listeners were instructed to shake the grogger when the Hamam’s name was mentioned in the story to “boo him away” collectively and drown out his name. Those who do not understand Hebrew followed along to an illustrated version of the story on the TV and in booklets.
Following the Megillah reading, the children were “transported” to Israel upstairs, where they followed their Israel Adventure map with destinations such as the Dead Sea and Tel Aviv. Tables were set up for families to dine together and the dancefloor was filled with children running around. Attendees of the event feasted on Israeli delicacies such as shawarma, baba ganoush and falafel.
Last year’s celebration was outside and not as lively and interactive according to Rabbi Kramer, due to pandemic restrictions. Now, attendees were able to mingle and interact with each other, not restricted to their one table.
“This is our story about our nationality related to a particular moment in history,” said Richard Soleymanzadeh, one of the two-dozen volunteers for the event. Due to his Persian ancestry, he and his family feel a special connection to this holiday. He said that cultural events like these are highly valued by his family and the community.
“It’s part of our tradition or culture and their heritage. And it’s important to maintain it for the benefit of the younger generation,” said Soleymanzadeh.
Many attendees described Purim as one of the more lighthearted Jewish holidays, focused on a fun celebration.
Rabbi Kramer said he hopes that the children left the event proud to be Jewish and excited about their identity. “We won, not by hiding in our basements, but by standing up and uniting together,” said Rabbi Kramer on the battle of survival against “one of the first anti-Semites.”
Donations collected that day were sent to the Ukraine Jewish Relief Fund sponsored by Chabad-Lubavitch to assist refugees and those who remain in the country.