At a pre-Purim Shabbat dinner last Friday night at Chabad of Columbia University, students took turns introducing themselves—as is the routine here. But this time, a bonus question was put to each of the students. In the spirit of Purim, Chabad-Lubavitch representative to Columbia, Rabbi Yonah Blum, asked students, “What masks do you wear in your daily life?
It was a tough question, says Simone Speed, a junior majoring in environmental biology, and president of Chai Society, Chabad’s student club on campus. “But it really set us thinking and delving deeper into the significance behind the symbolic Purim rituals,” she says.
On a campus buzzing with intellectual verve and brimming with ideas, Chabad sees every encounter with students as an opportunity to match their inquisitive minds with insights that drive them to probe ever deeper. “But Purim is a time to have fun,” says Blum, and on that note students were having good fun at a midnight masquerade hosted by the Blum’s at their small west side apartment last night. Doctor Seuss, Amelia Earhart, and Shlomo Carelbach as well as a group of female campus gangsters, were among the visages the Blums entertained at an after-party that ran from midnight until 5 a.m. Saturday night.
“The Blums provide a sort of safety net,” says Simone, “so that coming from all the other parties going on around town, their place feels so comfortable, so homey, warm, and yet such fun, with the music on all night and lots of laughter.”
At the University of Pennsylvania, another Ivy League with a significant Jewish student body, Purim this year coincided with spring break. So Rabbi Haskelevitch and his team of energetic Chabad representatives brought the Purim spirit to campus a few days early. A wild carnival last Monday at the Hall of Flags—in the center of campus—drew on the collaborative efforts of some seventeen student clubs, among them the Israel Cultural Club, APEi, Delta Epsilon, and the Republican and Democratic student clubs.
More than four hundred students, many of them new to Chabad, participated in the carnival, where the booths, each sponsored by a respective student club, ranged from packaging Purim treats for soldiers in Israel, to a cake-eating contest, painting yarmulkes, and the game Twister.
“Students had a terrific time,” says Elana Jared, who chaired the event, and who came up with the idea of donating proceeds to Pups-For-Peace, an organization dedicated to training dogs to sniff for bombs and other explosives in an effort to combat terrorism in Israel. A sophomore at UPenn, Jared approached Rabbi Haskelevitch a while back, after having become familiar with Pups-For-Peace, about doing a fundraiser for what she felt was a worthy organization. Why she chose Chabad? “I feel very comfortable with Chabad here, I like what they stand for, and am impressed with how down-to-earth they are,” she says.
Haskelevitch is glad for the exposure the event gave students to the holiday, which might otherwise have gone unmarked. One student, Eli Schlamm, recruited a group of medical students late last week to pack one hundred Purim packages which were delivered to Jewish students on campus.
Like at UPenn and Columbia, on campuses across the country and around the globe, Chabad, says Simone, through its myriad activities “brings Judaism to people who don’t know it, at times bringing about dramatic turnarounds in people’s lives, and at others enhancing their lives by encouraging them to perform a single good deed, like giving shalach manot, or listening to the reading of the Megillah.”