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On College Campuses, Purim Partying Begins Early This Year

By , Brighton, England

This year, Purim falls out during Spring Break, when most college campuses are ghost towns. But Chabad reps have figured out a way to Purim Party with students all the same . . .

Counting down to spring break cheers sleep-deprived and paper swamped college students. But the timing of the vacation has some Chabad campus representatives pulling sleepless nights.

When the Jewish calendar plays catch up to realign its lunar cycle with the world’s solar cycle, as it does this year, the holiday of Purim leaps ahead by an entire 30 days. At campuses across the country, this means the holiday that has made Chabad centers’ reputation as an excellent place to celebrate being Jewish biggest happens during spring or term break, when the campus is a ghost town.

“It would be a shame for students to miss out on Purim because school is out,” said Rabbi Elazar Green, director of Chabad Jewish Enrichment Center serving Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.Rabbi Green is less worried that the students won’t be around to party with Chabad than he is that they will miss out on connecting with the spiritual side of the holiday.

“For many the first time they hear about the existence of Purim is in college,” he said. Concerned that their newfound enthusiasm for the holiday will slip away because of the vacation overlap, brought Rabbi Green new appreciation for the obscure holiday of Purim Kattan, literally, “little Purim.”

This holiday, celebrated this year on February 19, shows up only during Jewish leap years.  He and co-director Shira Green are hosting an Israeli night for the students on Purim Kattan. Over a pita and falafel dinner, with Israeli pop blasting in the background, the students will make Purim food gift baskets, mishlaoch manot, for Israeli soldiers.

“It’s a way to do something meaningful for Israel and talk to students about what’s going on in a month from now so they should be aware of the holiday even though we will be on spring break,” Rabbi Green said.

Purim Kattan will be time for a mini-party and some Purim education at University of Sussex in Brighton, England. Chabad has been on campus at universities in the area since the late 1960’s, but there’s always a new generation to reach. Since 2004, Rabbi Zalman and Shterna Lewis have been working with the thousand of Jewish students in the area.

“Pivotal moments in the Purim miracle unfolded in a party setting. Food and drink played a large role,” said Rabbi Lewis. During a whiskey tasting for grad students, Rabbi Lewis will offer shots of wisdom about the spiritual significance of spirits. “It’s a good setting to get into the deeper meaning of Purim, the story behind the story.”

A double whammy of calendar events conspire against celebrating Purim at the Chabad Jewish Center that is enjoyed by Western Washington University students. Not only is the holiday right in the middle of spring break, but there’s also the college’s quarter system to contend with. The semester ends right before the break. Students are cramming for finals, and in no frame of mind to learn about a Jewish holiday.

Rabbi Levi and Hadassah Backman feel their pain. They are hosting a Purim themed Midnight Breakfast for students on study benders. By serving Purim food and decorations, participating in mishlaoch manot gifts for Israeli soldiers, “we will help them get ready for Purim,” said Rabbi Backman.

 And when their minds clear, they will have Chabad’s own care packages – Purim baskets to go to help the students celebrate the holiday, wherever their vacations take them.


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