What to do when you land a job an hour away from home, in Midtown Manhattan, on Purim day?
Michal Silverman, a freelance writer from Monsey, found herself in just such a predicament on Tuesday, wondering how she’d manage to observe Purim, in the heart of Manhattan. Fortunately for her, Silverman wasn’t the first to have encountered this dilemma, and in its seventh year, Chabad of Midtown has created the perfect antidote to a celebration-free Purim. The key? Round-the-clock Megillah readings, every hour, on the hour, at its home, and what Chabad Rabbi Shea Metzger calls “every Jew’s home in Midtown Manhattan,” on 5th avenue and 42nd street.
In the course of an 11-hour day, from 8 a.m. through 6 p.m., hundreds of people walk through the door of 509 Fifth Avenue, to partake of the Purim celebration. They come from every walk of life and every level of affiliation and observance. They are business people and employees, tourists and local residents, in costume and in work attire, their only common denominator–being Jewish. Many are regulars here and there are not a few familiar faces, says Metzger, but there are also many first timers.
Helen Eliassian who works in the area, has frequented the center several times before and was happy to be able to participate at the Megillah reading. Eliassian lives on the Upper West Side, where she attends lectures and functions at Chabad of the West Side. “Having another Jewish home base so close to work is very comforting,” she says. The round-the-clock readings were very convenient, and in keeping with Chabad’s mission of accommodating everyone, Eliassian points out.
It’s one of Chabad of Midtown’s biggest annual events, says Metzger, who runs a center that owes it uniqueness to the location, and its very diverse community. A major tourist center, and home to a large business district, Midtown has a substantial residential community, notes Metzger, but it’s a transient community. Many singles rent apartments here, and move out suddenly. Young couples generally take to the suburbs as family life makes it increasingly hard to live in the tight space of Manhattan. And international businesspeople keep apartments here, but their comings and goings are completely unpredictable. So in addition to Shabbat and evening functions, Chabad places special focus on catering to people working in the area. And most of Chabad’s publicity here comes from advertisements, and word of mouth so “you never know who’s going to walk through those doors next,” says Metzger.