Purim is the perfect holiday to celebrate with students on the college campus, unless of course, if Purim falls during spring break, which is just what happened this year. With the Rutgers break coinciding with Purim, a decision had to be made what would happen this year for this festival. So, Rabbis Baruch Goodman, Shaya Shagalow and Shraga Crombie all sat down and wondered what would happen if word would go out to the local town that there’d be a Megillah reading and program for area children in the New Brunswick vicinity?
Asking around, it didn’t look good. Since Purim was to take place this year on a Sunday, all the local people who were asked had plans, and it didn’t look like anyone would come. But the rabbis were persistent, and sent out the “royal decree” that spring break or no spring break, Chabad at Rutgers was making Purim! Not just on Saturday night for the few students who hadn’t left for break yet, but on Sunday as well. Facebook and Twitter posts were made, as well as postcards and emails sent out to families in the surrounding areas, advertising a Grand Purim Breakfast Feast Sunday morning, with Megillah reading, and Purim Festive Meal, Hamantaschen baking, a Purim raffle, and prizes for all children dressed in costume.
When the few people who called asked, “about how many people do you expect to the program,” Rabbi Goodman answered, “to tell you the truth, it’s going to be either 8 or 80! We have no idea, but please come and celebrate with us!”
When the day came, the Chabad House was bustling with activity, preparing for the 8 or 80 people anticipated. Megillahs and graggers were set in the Shul, prizes were purchased, a continental breakfast with eggs, pancakes, lox, whitefish, bagels, rolls, yogurts, fruits, and juices was prepared, and hamantaschen cookie dough made. And then the front doors began opening, over and over again. Parents and children came from New Brunswick, Piscataway, East Brunswick, South River, Highland Park, Edison, Metuchen, and even from RWJ Children’s Specialized Hospital.
The welcome desk recorded exactly 79 entrance tickets. Rabbi Goodman’s children helped set up the Shul and breakfast Purim feast, Rabbi Shagalow, who read the second reading of the Megillah, brought the Mishloach Manot kits made by student leader Esther Shimonovich and her volunteers, while Rabbi Shraga Crombie read a lively rendition of the Book of Esther to a very receptive and enthusiastic audience. Melanie Wegodsky, a graduate of the Chabad Hebrew School, who attended with her mother and brothers, helped lead the children’s raffle and prize distribution for all children in Purim costumes.
Lt. Col. Jesse Arnstein of the US Air Force, his wife Jill and their children, came all the way from South Jersey to participate in the Purim festivities this year. “When we heard that the Goodman’s were going to be in town and having a unique program for kids, we felt that we wanted our children to experience the joy of Judaism that Chabad provides, like I had when I was a student many years ago at Rutgers Chabad. We loved the program; it was worth the shlep!”
Rabbi Goodman spoke of how important it is to come together each year and hear the heroic story of Esther and Mordechai, and how they inspired their generation to believe and trust in G-d. He spoke of the laws that when reading the Megillah – Book of Esther, one must hear every single word, and that we are forbidden to read the Megillah backwards; in other words, out of chapter order. The reason for this is that while all the incidents that are recorded in the Megillah look like separate, isolated occurrences, they all were necessary pieces to the puzzle for how the Jews came to be saved. Each happening somehow coalesced into the incredible redemption we now celebrate as Purim, and it became obvious to everyone living then that those seemingly isolated incidences were really well orchestrated events from G-d as a result of the Jews’ recommitting themselves to a Jewish way of life, which delivered the miracle of Purim.”
The rabbi also made mention of the deeper teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, that if one merely hears the Megillah as a “backwards” story, meaning a story of miracles that could only happen “back then” in olden days, then one has not fulfilled his or her obligation in hearing the Megillah. “It is incumbent upon each of one us to realize that just like miracles happened back then through adjusting our conduct and way of life to be more in line with the way G-d wants us to live, then miracles can happen today as well. May we all realize that we are the Mordechais and Esthers of today, and live up to these very special titles, by learning and doing Jewish things, and remembering to inspire those around us as well, with love and understanding. In this way, we will merit our own redemption from our present-day Hamans and dark times, with the immediate arrival of the “Moses of our generation,” our righteous Moshiach.”
Towards the end of the program, as freshly baked hamantaschen were being taken out of the oven, Mishloach Manot kits exchanged, Tzedaka given to the poor, and raffle prizes distributed by Melanie, the front registration table welcomed in one more participant – Melanie’s father, Jay, who had gone to work extra early in the morning to be able to spend the rest of the day of Purim with his wife and children, bringing our total ticket count Purim day to 80!