Congregation Beth Jacob staff and officers were determined to promote Purim spirit at a time when planned congregational and communal merrymaking could not safely take place.
The Adar Games
Cancelling the annual Purim celebration of seudah (singing, dancing, feasting and performing) for the close-knit Beth Jacob congregation was an unacceptable option, and Senior Rabbi Ilan D. Feldman was determined to boost spirits and help synagogue members have a joyful holiday. The staff and congregants got to work to devise a pre-Purim week of frivolity and fun, using a WhatsApp format through which two teams and their captains communicated.
On Feb. 14, BJ congregants learned about The Adar Games. In the jovial spirit of Purim’s Hebrew month of Adar, a rollicking color-war competition was announced, and the entire Beth Jacob membership was divided into two teams, Purple Reign (chaired by Josh and Sari Joel) and Orange Crush (chaired by Shlomo and Elisheva Storch). There were competitions for all ages and abilities, facilitated through the creation of a Zoom Room. Orange Crush won.
The Adar Games began Feb. 15 with a scavenger hunt for fifth through eighth grade girls and continued that night with a General Trivia game for families. The other game themes that week: Feb. 16, sports; Feb. 17, The Great Debate (BJ lawyers Moshe Goldfeder and Ahron Golding argued Shabbat sermon or no Shabbat sermon); Feb. 18, Cholent and Chopt competition; and Feb. 22, poker. Team members also acquired points by performing acts of tzedakah and chesed (good deeds). Simultaneously, a jokes competition and team-color shul room decoration were in play.
The Purim Crawl
This year would have marked the 30th Purim Parade down LaVista Road in Toco Hills, showcasing costumed families, stunts, scores of marching groups, synagogues, schools, and community organizations, and culminating with a festival at Beth Jacob. The goal of creating a fun-oriented Jewish communal event for thousands of people was discussed with medical advisors.
In early February, Beth Jacob decided against organizing a mass outdoor celebration. Instead of an event that could spread COVID, a family-friendly car-based event was organized. The Purim Crawl, which took place Feb. 21, was an original idea spearheaded by Sarah Faygie Berkowitz, Beth Jacob communications and marketing manager.
Participant Davida Graber said, “The Purim Crawl was such a wonderful event! The scavenger hunt was amazing; we put our 11-year-old son Ami in charge of navigating through the megillah as we drove around the neighborhood searching for the clues in that text. He was so engaged, and it was really a beautiful experience. I’m hoping that next year life will go back to normal, but this was one of the silver linings of celebrating during a pandemic. I hope this out-of-the-box Purim Crawl is here to stay!”
The free event, to which groups and individuals who had participated in previous Purim Parades were invited, was a multi-activity, clue-following, appropriate for all ages “moving experience.” There were 199 vehicles in the procession, with representatives from many area synagogues.
Cars started in the Beth Jacob parking lot, where the mood was set with music, a stilt-walking 9-foot Queen Esther, and other costumed volunteers greeting the “crawlers.” Every vehicle received a kit with refreshments, games and coloring sheets to keep them busy in the car during the two-hour crawl. A live emcee on radio station 90.3 WAPC and a YouTube channel provided Purim music and live reporting on Purim Crawl activity, while a drone recorded the fun from the skies. The five stops featured costumed entertainers and non-interactive activities, including a coin-toss for tzedakah at Congregation Ohr HaTorah, mask-making kits at WD Thompson Park, balloon artists and cookies at Sage Hill Shopping Center, and hamantashen-making kits and a candy jar guessing game.
Along the crawl, questions led to 10 homes in the Toco Hills area with signs in Hebrew and English designating a verse from the Book of Esther. Ten letters were then identified and unscrambled, and scavenger participants filled out a Google form to be entered to win the raffle prize later won by Josh and Ilana Yehaskel and family.
“This was the first year we took the Purim Parade on the go,” Berkowitz said, “and the logistics of spreading out in so many different directions and locations for the first time was a little nerve-wracking. But it went amazingly well, and everyone had a fantastic time!”
Rabbi Yitzchak Tendler, Beth Jacob’s executive director, summed up the pre-holiday activities. “Both events reflect our shul facing unique circumstances and modifying our approach in order to bring the community together. I’m grateful that we rose to the occasion.”