Despite challenges like anti-Semitism, far-right political extremism, and terrorism, European Jewish communities celebrated Purim with pride.
From Poland and Hungary to Romania and the Baltics, JDC and Jews throughout the region rejoiced on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar by participating in events tied to the festival of Purim. A commemoration of the defeat of Haman’s plan to massacre the Jews, Purim signifies the tenacity of the Jewish people and Queen Esther.
“Our work in Europe closely aligns with Purim’s message of the Jewish people coming together to overcome even the most tremendous obstacles like persecution and adversity,” said Diego Ornique, regional director of JDC Europe. “At a time in which Jewish communities in Europe are thriving, we stand hand in hand with European Jews as they join together to celebrate this key holiday, despite the multitude of odds they are facing.”
Purim activities throughout Europe included:
A week before Purim, the JDC-supported Warsaw Jewish Community Center’s (JCC) “Unplugging Day” focused on finding ways to detach from technology and everyday life. Turning off all types of mobile technology that might serve as a distraction from what life really is all about — being together with others — the day included discussions on the idea behind Sabbath Manifesto, the roots of the mindfulness movement and Jewish figures within it, as well as therapeutic breathing exercises, yoga, and using projects including origami and sand creation as artistic ways to recharge internal batteries.
In addition, the Warsaw JCC’s annual craft fair enabled artists and small manufacturers from the community and beyond to showcase and sell the goods they created—all while making and serving homemade hamantashen– the traditional triangular cookies eaten on Purim. Each crafter donated 20 percent of their profits earned from that day, raising more than $1,000 to support the family of 9-year-old Sara, a girl from the Jewish community of Katowice who suffers from achondroplasia and requires extensive medical care to improve her quality of life now and in the future. The fundraising campaign showcases the rise in philanthropy within the Polish community, in which the important Jewish values of both tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (repairing the world) are also increasing locally.
Together with the local Jewish community, JDC, the Jewish Historical Institute (JHI), and Hillel Warszawa partnered to organize the Purim Ball, which occurred on March 11th and this year signified the 70th anniversary of the rebuilding of the JHI building. In past years, the Purim ball has been a huge success with hundreds of participants dressing up in costumes and celebrating Purim with music and dancing, and this year’s event produced similar results.
Between Purim and Passover, the Warsaw JCC’s Rosh Chodesh women’s group will have a meeting that intertwines the two holidays to include costumes and the ethics and morality behind them as well. Two local Jewish entrepreneurs will be on hand to discuss the ethics surrounding the production of clothes, modern slavery occurring behind closed doors in the fashion industry, and the balance between fashion and fairness.
Created for children, additionally the JDC Purim extravaganza brought with it quizzes, games, and improvisation classes to enable children to express themselves through acting. After some practice, the youth group took the stage to act out their scene in a Purim spiel performance.
In Budapest, the Balint JCC hosted a Purim-themed Escape Room. Designed for team building, the Escape Room allowed parents and their children, ages 6-12, to work together by completing riddles and puzzles needed to exit “Queen Esther’s” room in a race against the clock. In addition, a light show including a spider web activity, board games, and darts exercises was on hand to connect community members to the holiday.
Celebrating JDC’s 100th anniversary of work in Romania, for the first time a program enabled 300 youth volunteers to deliver mischloach manot (gift packages) filled with chocolate, fruit, and baked cookies to the homes of about 184 elderly people who live in 17 communities across the country. This is the inaugural edition of this JDC-organized program. This initiative underlines the growth of youth volunteerism in a country still recovering from Communist oppression, highlighting a growing trend across Eastern Europe as a whole.
Last but not least, as Purim fell during the middle of Spring Camp Aviv in Latvia, a place where students in grades 3-10 come to personally develop in a relaxed atmosphere for six days, a day chock full of fun Purim activities was held including mask-making workshops, a Purim spiel showcasing children, and a nighttime carnival party.
JDC has played a pivotal role in assisting European Jews to make strides in cultural and educational areas after the Holocaust. Today, JDC works throughout central and Eastern Europe to provide lifesaving assistance to Jews in need, spurs community development and Jewish renewal through programs related to Jewish holidays, identity, and culture like the ones described above, and develops next generation Jewish leaders though learning seminars and conferences.