Students celebrate Purim amid COVID-19

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Hamantaschen cookies, a Purim dessert staple. Photo courtesy of Chaviva Ruffer.

By Brandie Bland
@BlandBrandie
For Mitzpeh 

A year into a global pandemic and a few days after a campus-wide sequester order went into effect, students at this university enjoyed a time of celebration during Purim.

Purim—a carnival-like holiday featuring costumes, music, dancing and lots of delicious hamantaschen—marks the survival of Jews threatened with extermination. The holiday, which was on Thursday and Friday this year, is celebrated with the most essential parts to any holiday, the three Fs: food, family and fun. Just like last year, Purim 2021 will be celebrated in quarantine. But students at this university are finding ways to celebrate safely.

Junior psychology and hearing and speech sciences major Lauren Silas planned to get into the Purim spirit at home with her family. 

“I’ll be celebrating Purim with my family and baking hamantaschen with my mom,” Silas said. 

Purim, a joyous, social holiday, is often marked by large gatherings of friends and families at synagogues and in loved ones’ homes. Those celebrating Purim usually attend synagogue to hear readings from the Book of Esther, and families and friends gather for a celebratory meal.

However, because of COVID-19 many rabbis across the world have issued guidance about how to gather safely. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth issued a plea to safely celebrate the holiday after a rise in cases in London Jewish communities.  

Some students are worried about celebrating Purim because of the pandemic and not wanting to get sick or spread the coronavirus. It’s one of the things that Lauren Silas considered when deciding whether or not to celebrate.

“The biggest difference for me this year is normally I’m around people celebrating the happy fun holiday. And right now, I’m not going to be around as many people or going somewhere for it,” Silas said.  

The Rabbinical Council of America, a national council of Orthodox rabbis, issued guidance on how to safely celebrate Purim while still being able to enjoy it with loved ones. 

The guidance cautions that those delivering Mishloach Manot should wear masks and practice social distancing, and emphasizes that people who are sick should remain in isolation. 

With the uncertainty of the pandemic, some students chose to spend the holiday off campus, at home with family. Rebecca Massarik, a junior mechanical engineering major, is one of those students who chose to spend Purim off campus at home because of COVID’s uncertainty. 

“I’ll be with my family and we’ll probably be making hamantaschen, not doing too much right now because of COVID. I don’t know if we’ll really dress up or go in person anywhere,” Massarik said.  

On this university’s campus, the traditional egalitarian minyan Ometz held a small Megillah reading at Hillel. Ometz also had a sign-up for Mishloach Manot that will be delivered across campus.

In light of this university’s measures to crack down on the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, anyone attending the Megillah reading had to wear a mask and practice social distancing. 

Student organizations like Hillel usually hold an on-campus Purim celebration at the Stamp Student Union. This year, Hillel brought hamantaschen to different parts of campus instead. 

Gather DC, a Jewish nonprofit serving the area, hosted a virtual hamantaschen bake-off that current students and alumni participated in. 

To combat her Purim blues, freshman undecided major Emma Stern reflected on what her perfect Purim would look like in a post-pandemic world.  

“If COVID wasn’t a thing, I would love to participate in something similar to what my Jewish day school used to do,” she said. We used to host a Purim carnival for underprivileged kids and do different acts of community service, which always felt super meaningful.”

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