Pittsburgh teens in Israel prepare for Purim by volunteering
PurimLending a hand

Pittsburgh teens in Israel prepare for Purim by volunteering

With people in Israel hurting, Purim is a perfect time to 'bring joy'

Katriel Camp, front right, joins classmates while volunteering on an Israeli farm. (Photo courtesy of Katriel Camp)
Katriel Camp, front right, joins classmates while volunteering on an Israeli farm. (Photo courtesy of Katriel Camp)

There are four primary commandments associated with Purim: reading the Megillah, giving gifts to friends and neighbors, eating a celebratory meal and supporting those in need.

Two Pittsburgh teens are using their time abroad to make the most of those precepts and the upcoming holiday: Tali Itskowitz and Katriel Camp, who are spending a gap year in the Jewish state, have dedicated hours to volunteering before Purim.

Itskowitz, a student at Midreshet Moriah in Jerusalem, said that she and her classmates partnered with OneFamily, an Israeli-based organization that works with victims of terror and their families, to create 150 mishloach manot.

The Purim baskets, which include waffle makers, waffle mix, candy, drinks and handwritten notes, will be delivered to families affected by recent terror, Itskowitz, 18, said.

Tali Itskowitz delivers mishloach manot in Israel. (Photo by Meir Pavlovsky)

The Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh graduate, who plans to attend the University of Maryland next fall, said she volunteered on the project during off-hours from school.

Dedicating Wednesday afternoons to the cause was a no-brainer, she explained.

“Purim in Israel is fun and lively, but it’s also important to focus on volunteering — the giving back aspect of it is a part of Purim as well,” she said.

The Megillah states that although the holiday was originally marked by the villainous Haman for the persecution of Jews, the period was transformed from grief and mourning to festive joy. In celebration, Purim is observed as “days of feasting and merrymaking, and as an occasion for sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor.”

This year, the holiday — which is celebrated in Jerusalem March 24-25, one day later than the rest of the world — is arriving almost six months into the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

“Purim is a fun time in Israel, but it’s also a sad time for so many families,” Itskowitz said. “Doing something that could make them happier or smile was a great way to spend our afternoons.”

Katriel Camp, a graduate of The Ellis School, has also spent portions of her gap year volunteering. The Midreshet Lindenbaum student, who is attending the University of Maryland next fall, listed several activities, including cooking for families, running carnivals for kids and tying tzitzit for Israeli soldiers, as ways she and classmates at her Jerusalem-based seminary have given back.

“We’ve done a bunch of things,” Camp, 18, told the Chronicle.

Shortly after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Camp and fellow students organized a feminine products drive. The Pittsburgher and her peers also volunteered on Israeli farms by pruning trees and picking fruit.

Some initiatives were organized by students. Other activities were “presented to us from our chessed coordinator,” Camp said.

Volunteering now is critical, she added.

Following Hamas’ attack, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety nearly doubled in Israel, according to researchers from the Ruppin Academic Center in Israel and Columbia University.

Volunteering not only impacts recipients but delivers physical and mental health benefits to those performing the good deeds, the Mayo Clinic Health System reported.

People in Israel are hurting, so if there are opportunities to “make these families feel the joy of the holiday it’s important to remember that, and let them know we are still thinking about them,” Camp said. “Purim is such an important holiday. The entire purpose is to bring joy and remember how we triumphed in the past.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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