This year, Purim fell only weeks after the Feb. 25 “Day of Hate,” in which white supremacists threatened antisemitic actions. Jewish students celebrated proudly nonetheless.

By Molly Zatman, Copy Chief

Four young men adorned in black shorts and sunglasses are lounging in an inflatable pool. A fake neon green turtle drifts above their legs, fighting with pool noodles for space. You’d think that these four are out under the sun enjoying a warm summer afternoon, but it’s only early March and the pool is inside the University of Maryland Hillel lobby. 

“It’s a time where Jews get to be together in a really fun environment,” Adam Bershad, Director of Engagement and Israel Experiences at the Hillel, said. “It’s a fun way to commemorate an ancient story while also having fun in modern times.”

From sundown on Mar. 6 to the following nightfall, Jewish students at this university celebrated Purim, a Jewish holiday commemorating Jewish victory over their persecutor, Haman, a minister in ancient Persia. Holiday traditions include wearing costumes, eating a triangular baked good known as hamantaschen (Haman’s ears) and booing when Haman’s name is mentioned while reading the biblical text, the Megillah of Esther.

A student dressed as Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad stands in the back of the Purim service at the Stamp Student Union, Mar. 6. (Molly Zatman/Mitzpeh)

Zak Vilschick, a senior studying government and politics, learned about Purim and ate hamantaschen in his Hebrew class with Professor Avital Karpman. Although Vilschick comes from a Jewish background, he had never celebrated Purim before.

“It was mid,” Vilschick said of his first-ever hamantaschen. “But the culture was top.”

Vilschick plans to celebrate Purim next year when he’ll be living in Israel. He’s excited to dress up and “crank the cranker,” referring to a grogger spun during the mention of Haman’s name.

Sarah Stambler, a junior majoring in Jewish studies, has celebrated Purim every year of her life. Her usual ensemble is Hermione from Harry Potter. This year she dressed as a musician.

“Purim has the theme most Jewish holidays do, which is they, they tried to kill us and we survived,” Stambler said, “That’s taken on deeper levels of meaning as I’ve realized to the extent of which Jewish people have actually been persecuted throughout history.”

This year, Purim fell only weeks after the Feb. 25 “Day of Hate,” in which white supremacists threatened antisemitic actions. There were no unusual incidents but the phenomenon highlighted the ongoing uptick in American antisemitism.

“People tend to put a lot of effort into hate when it would actually be less effort to ignore us,” Stambler said. “Purim is such a joyful holiday. It’s definitely a little ironic that we have such an exciting, happy holiday after people try to hate on our culture and religion.”

For Bershad, dressing up on Purim – whether as a fairy, a can of soup, or a Breaking Bad character – is an act of defiance and strength. 

A student dressed up as Dr. Doofenshmirtz, complete with the villain’s childhood toy, Balloony. (Molly Zatman/Mitzpeh)

“So many people want to blend into the majority of society,” Bershad said,“Back then, people dressed up in outfits to hide who they were. Now, dressing up shows that you’re Jewish.”

Bershad dressed as a lumberjack, with a flannel shirt tucked into jeans with suspenders. Students’ Purim outfits included sports attire, Sully from Monsters Inc., Dr. Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb and Nintendo’s Mario.

“It’s showing you’re proud to celebrate your holidays and be one with the Jewish community and especially here on campus,” Bershad said, “We’re proud, and Purim is one of those days we get to outwardly express that.”


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