PEABODY – The yearlong pandemic has forced Jews to be creative when it comes to celebrating the cycle of holidays on the Jewish calendar. So getting into the full swing of Purim, which starts on the evening of Feb. 25, means turning up the volume.
Rabbi Richard Perlman of Peabody’s Temple Ner Tamid noted that last March, “Purim was the last thing we did. The next week, we shut down. We had our Purim spiel, and that was it. So technically, this is the full cycle of the pandemic.”
Even with synagogues closed to in-person worship or practicing reduced congregations and social distancing when it comes to services, shuls are still getting into the act of reading the Megillah, using a mix of remote programming and some in-person festivities.
Perlman said his congregation is going to “keep it light” as it celebrates the Book of Esther. While there can’t be a Purim carnival this year, the Ritual Committee, the Sisterhood, and the Men’s Club are delivering or mailing goody bags to members, students in the religious school are putting together a montage for a virtual talent show, and there will be a creative reading on Zoom of the Megillah on Erev Purim with his brother Rabbi Eli Perlman’s synagogue, Congregation Beit Shalom in New Jersey.
Rabbi David Kudan of Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody said highlights of the celebration will include a Purim drive-by gift bag pickup on Feb, 21 at 10 a.m.; a replay on Zoom of past Purim spiels; and a reading of the Megillah on Feb. 25 on Zoom. He said the temple’s music director has put together a great script that likens the banquet in the story to a super-spreader event.
“Certainly, there is a lot to say about that,” said the rabbi when asked about what lessons one can draw from Purim that applies to the pandemic. “The question is there is something that especially applies this year. It’s escaped no one’s notice it’s a holiday in which people wear masks.”
One of the interesting aspects of someone wearing a mask or a costume, Kudan said, is even though people are pretending, they adopt a different persona that often reveals something about themselves, whether it be taking on the role of a character they admire or putting on the mask of a villain. Even though they don’t want to be a villain, the mask brings out something in them, whether it be boldness or humor.
Kudan also noted that masks have become a chance for self-expression. Children wear them with their favorite characters, and he has one from the Peabody Essex Museum with one of his favorite paintings on it.
“Not everyone has been willing to wear a mask, and that reveals something about the caring for others,” Kudan said.
Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott will be holding a Purim Party on Feb. 25 at 6:15 p.m. on Zoom. Attendees are being asked to dress in their best “good vs. evil disguise.” The music will be provided by Cantor Alty Weinreb, and Rabbi Michael Ragozin will be leading the fight of good vs. evil.
“I think that we will [be] together to celebrate the triumph of good over evil,” Ragozin said. The story of Purim is “the triumph of a small minority that was facing genocide, the triumph of good over evil … It will invoke an inner joy,” he said of what the spiel will bring out in people. The story also gives one a sense of Jewish unity.
“We are all in this together, it doesn’t matter if you are the queen in the palace or homeless on the street,” Ragozin said of living through the pandemic.
Chabad of the North Shore is planning a “Purim Under the Stars” midwinter barbeque and “fireside chill” on Feb. 25 at its temple at 44 Burrill St. in Swampscott. Megillah readings will be at 6:05, 7:05, and 8:05 p.m. There is limited space and you must RSVP at nsjewish.com.
“I think from one vantage point, it was easier to observe the High Holidays; it was simply a matter of redirecting a prevailing solemnness,” said Chabad of the North Shore Rabbi Yossi Lipsker in a message. “But observing Purim might be trickier. You can’t take the joy out or it’s not Purim. And I know lots of folks are saying, ‘How can I be joyful when I’m still so afraid of COVID? How can I be joyful knowing how many people lost their lives?’
“The truth is that by owning these important questions and NOT sweeping it under the rug, we might be setting ourselves up for an even more substantive JOY,” Lipsker added.
“In order to ‘get there,’ we will have to really WORK at it this Purim. Though we can each arrive at that JOY-full moment differently, and we might experience it differently; if we ‘work the problem’ successfully we can set ourselves up for a uniquely profound joy that makes up qualitatively for all that is missing quantitatively.”
Other temples are also getting into the Purim spirit. Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead wants congregants to fulfill a mitzvah with a Purim Food Drive for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless on Sunday, Feb. 21, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the drop-off location outside the youth lounge/religious school door. Those dropping off donations will get a Purim Prop Bag. On Feb. 25, Erev Purim, on Zoom there will be hamantaschen baking for families and children at 4 p.m., a family Megillah reading at 6 p.m., and an adult reading at 7 p.m. The readings are hosted by Rabbi David Meyer and Music Director Jon Nelson.
Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly is planning a ‘Zoomegillah’ Purim Celebration on Feb. 25. at 6:30 p.m. with an interactive Megillah reading, costume parade, music, kids’ dance party, and more. The event will be streamed live on the temple’s Facebook page and you can contact email@example.com for the Zoom link.
Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester will mark Purim on Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m. with an online Megillah reading. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Temple Sinai in Marblehead will be celebrating Purim on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 6 p.m., on Zoom. The temple is asking celebrants to wear hats or costumes and use pasta boxes as noise makers, and then donate the boxes of pasta to the food bank that resides at the temple or to the Lynn Shelter.”