Jewish Pittsburgh returns to ‘normal’ Purim
PurimLet's party

Jewish Pittsburgh returns to ‘normal’ Purim

After a prolonged period at home, the community is grabbing its graggers and getting ready to celebrate

Uh, oh, look who showed up for Purim in 2018. Photo by Barry Werber
Uh, oh, look who showed up for Purim in 2018. Photo by Barry Werber

Purim typically lasts one day. In Pittsburgh, though, the celebration will run a bit longer this year.

For nearly a week, members of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community will have many opportunities to mark the holiday — in person.

On March 13, from 10 a.m. to noon, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh — in partnership with Temple Emanuel of South Hills, Beth El Congregation of the South Hills and PJ Library — is hosting Purim Palooza. The free event will feature balloons, crafting and hamantaschen making.

Rachael Speck, director of Children, Youth and Family at the JCC, said she’s excited about the program and encourages people to sign up online in advance.

“In order to be COVID-conscious, it is by reservation only,” Speck said.

Upon registering, families will be invited to stay and play at the indoor event for a one-hour time slot between 10 a.m. and noon. Masking is required.

It’s important to create communitywide partnerships, Speck said, such as the JCC’s March 13 program at the Family Park in Monroeville. The JCC is partnering with Community Day School, Repair the World, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Kesher Pittsburgh, Temple David, Rodef Shalom Congregation, Tree of Life, Congregation Beth Shalom and Temple Sinai on the annual Snyder Family Purim Carnival, from 1-3 p.m.

The event will feature an inflatable obstacle course, bounce house, carnival games, prizes, face-painting, a Purim spiel, hot chocolate truck and hamantaschen baking.

The program will cost $10 per child or $40 for a family of four or more.

Proof of vaccination is required to attend both the Monroeville and South Hills programs.

Both events will remind Pittsburghers why Purim is such a significant holiday, Speck said.

“As wonderful as it was to be able to celebrate the holiday safely in our households [last year], I think the spirit and the ruach were missing, so to be able to do it as a community in person this year really captures that and makes the celebration a little more meaningful,” she said.

2018 Rodef Shalom Purim Carnival teen volunteers, Jordana and Ariella Avigad. Photo courtesy of Rodef Shalom Congregation

The happiness and joy people experience on Purim are intrinsic to the holiday’s origins, said Yael Eads, Rodef Shalom’s youth director.

According to the megillah, Purim marks the saving of the Jewish people from a royal decree of death. And one of the ways people celebrate that triumph is by sending mishloach manot — gifts of food and drink — to friends and family.

On March 12, Rodef Shalom youth will have the opportunity to pack mishloach manot, which will be delivered during a communal megillah reading with Tree of Life on March 16.

Part of the March 16 service will include a “teaching about the 50th anniversary of the first woman rabbi's ordination, and then a spiel co-presented with Tree of Life,” said Anna Gitlitz, Rodef Shalom’s marketing and communications manager.

On the evening of March 12, Rodef Shalom students in grades six through 12 can come to the synagogue for nachos, ice cream and to help set up a carnival for the following day.

The March 13 carnival, called “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together,” is open only to Rodef Shalom and Beth Shalom members. Attendees must register and wear a N95, KN95, KF94 mask, or double-mask with a surgical and cloth mask.

Rabbi Barbara Symons, of Temple David, is also looking forward to celebrating Purim as a community. In addition to co-sponsoring Purim in the Park with the JCC, Temple David will celebrate the holiday by reading the megillah and participating in a Purim-related matching contest and online gameshow.

Additionally, the congregation is organizing a canned soup and can opener drive to support a local food pantry; providing for those less fortunate, or giving matanot l’evyonim, is central to the holiday, Symons said.

For Jess Gold, a program manager of Repair the World Pittsburgh, the holiday isn’t just about giving to others but providing them with the particular items they need.

Annie Dunn and Aadam Soorma, head of marketing and guest experience at Trace Brewing, stand inside Trace Brewing surrounded by bags of donated supplies from the MLK supply drive. Photo courtesy of Annie Dunn

Gold said that partner organizations in the community have “self-identified needs” and that Repair the World is helping those organizations obtain those items — as Repair the World did during Martin Luther King weekend when it hosted a supply drive with Trace Brewing, Annie Dunn, Repair the World’s senior program associate, said.

“We collected over 800 supplies that were self-identified by some of the organizations we’re working with in this drive,” Dunn said, and Repair the World is again working in conjunction with Trace Brewing for the Purim drive.

From now until March 10, Repair the World is collecting supplies that have been self-identified by Za'kiyah House, Sisters Pgh, Center of Life and Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid. Then, on March 17, from 6-7:30 p.m. volunteers will pack those items for delivery.

Temple Emanuel religious school students will also be packing and delivering items to others in observance of the holiday.

On March 6, students from pre-K through seventh grade will decorate bags, make cards, bake hamantaschen and then delivering the packages, Leslie Hoffman, Temple Emanuel’s executive director, said.

Beth El is also getting its children involved in the spirit of the holiday.

On March 11 at 7 p.m. Beth El’s religious school classes, from Toot through seventh grade, will participate in a pre-Purim Shabbat and celebration. Following the Friday evening service, participants are invited for a candy stroll through Beth El’s Purim neighborhood — with instructions to carefully avoid Haman along the way. Children also are encouraged to stop in Beth El’s social hall from 6:45-8:15 p.m. for a bean-packing activity for South Hills Interfaith Movement.

On March 17 at 5 p.m., Chabad of Squirrel Hill is hosting Purim Fest. The evening affair features a catered dinner, animated megillah reading, crafts for kids, a mad science show and individual family seating. The cost is $15 for adults and $10 for children. Reservations can be made online.

On both March 16 and 17, congregations are marking Purim with megillah readings throughout the area — check the calendar for more information.

After almost two years of COVID-related holiday disruptions, there’s a joy in welcoming people back for in-person celebrations, Temple Emanuel’s Rabbi Aaron Meyer said.

“Purim is a time of communal rejoicing, a celebration of overcoming seemingly impossible odds just to survive,” he said. “With tremendous gratitude to the essential workers, everyone in health care from doctors to nurses to CNAs to administration, and to everyone who continues to do their part to reduce the effects of COVID-19, this year's festivities blend relief from the historical win of Esther and Mordecai with the relief we feel as we reclaim a sense of normal.”

Shaare Torah Congregation’s Rabbi Daniel Wasserman agreed, saying, “Purim is a perfect time to get back to normal, and prime that pump with Pesach coming right afterwards. Thirty days later, it’s Pesach and certainly we want to be celebrating Pesach in a normal way.

“Obviously, there’s a new normal, and I’m not suggesting we throw caution to the wind, but I’m suggesting it’s time to get back to normal.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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