“Judaism’s all about breaking barriers, transcending limits, and that’s really the idea here behind my music,” said Matisyahu, renowned Hassidic-reggae singer, to a crowd of some 1,300 students on Thursday night, at Columbia University’s knockout Purim celebration.
For hundreds of students lined up outside the centrally located Alfred Lerner Hall’s Roone Arledge Auditorium, overcoming obstacles was the call of the hour as they tried to gain entry into the packed hall, where security was forced to turn away an overflow crowd of 350 ticket-less students.
A pre-concert Megillah reading and an elegant reception organized by Columbia’s Chabad representatives, Rabbi Yonah and Keren Blum, drew some 50 VIP students and alums for a scrumptious break-fast and drinks. By 9:30, while a dozen volunteers took to putting the finishing touches on what would prove to be a truly incredible affair, it was clear that months of preparation, including publicity by emails and notices posted on building facades campus-wide, had paid off. The lines outside extended across the entire length of Broadway between 114th and 116th streets.
Inside the hall, Matisyahu’s message resonated with students of every denomination, who, sporting colorful wigs and innovative costumes, took to the dance floor with an infectious enthusiasm that pervaded the auditorium. It was possibly one of the biggest Jewish events ever to take place on a campus where Jewish students make up 20% of the general student population.
“Matisyahu made everyone feel included, and I loved the way he touched on the deeper meaning of the Purim story,” says Aliza Pearlson, Barnard ’07. “It was really heartwarming to see so many kinds of Jews just enjoying themselves together. I think that is what Chabad is all about—finding a place where everyone feels welcome.”
The festivities, which drew students from across the gamut of religious and ideological backgrounds, engendered feelings of goodwill and unity among a student body that finds itself in the throes of a particularly divisive controversy in Columbia’s history. Amid allegations of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel biases on campus, Thursday’s event marked a truly transcendent experience, encouraging Jewish students to assert their identity and pride, unabashedly.
“If nothing else, I think students took home the essential message of unity and togetherness that really epitomized this event,” said Rabbi Blum, noting that the event he spearheaded drew on the joint sponsorship of ten student organizations.
According to Josh Gajer, Columbia College ’06, Chabad’s Purim event was “hands-down the best campus-wide event of the year. Columbia is diverse demographically and intellectually and is often divided along those lines. It was incredible to see the whole campus come together in celebration and fun.”