Hillel gets in the Purim spirit

W&L’s Hillel celebrated annual Jewish holiday with week-long festivities

Alex Kinzer

Washington and Lee’s Hillel celebrated the Jewish holiday of Purim this week with a new spin on two traditional Purim events.

Purim, which generally falls on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Adar, was celebrated on March 23-24.

The Purim story recounts the story of how Queen Esther and her uncle, Mordecai, saved the Jews of Persia from death at the hands of Haman, an advisor to the Persian King Achashverosh.

Hillel Director Megan McLean humorously described Purim.

“There’s basically a motto that sums up every Jewish holiday: they tried to kill us, they didn’t, let’s eat,” McLean said. “When we celebrate Purim, we are remembering the story of Esther. We remember another time when we were almost defeated, and we were not. We overcame and celebrate that together.”

On Wednesday evening, Hillel hosted a Purim Spiel, or a Purim Reading, in the Hillel Multipurpose Room. Although the Purim Spiel is a traditional Purim event, every Purim reading is a bit different.

McLean said congregations in synagogues typically get together and do the Purim Spiel, which is a fun retelling of the Purim story. Rather than just reading the Megillah, the Jewish term for the Purim story, some synagogues might do a theme, such as “Purim in Outer Space” or “1970’s Purim.”

“The way that I describe Purim to a lot of my non-Jewish friends is a combination between Halloween and Mardi Gras” McLean said. “You have the costumes. In Israel, there are big parades, and a lot of partying going on, since it is a celebration!”

The reading featured many cast members from W&L’s recent production of Legally Blonde, including Dana Gary, ‘18, Grace Vianney, ‘16, and Murtaza Kapasi, ‘16.

This year, Hillel recruited W&L Theater students to perform as part of the reading, but added a twist. They intentionally chose performers who were not familiar with the Purim story. Armed only with a short character description, the performers were told to improvise, as the story was read aloud by Hillel students.

McLean felt the improvisation factor definitely added humor to the production, partly because the actors were unaware of the traditions surrounding their characters.

For instance, when the name of the story’s antagonist, Haman, was read aloud during the Purim Spiel, the audience was supposed to boo.

“It made it so fun,” McLean said. “Seeing the look on Murtaza Kapasi’s face when we booed him for the first time not knowing that you are supposed to boo when you hear the name Haman was really fun.”

Vianney, who played Queen Esther, said although she had heard the story of Esther many years ago, hearing the story read in its entirety and acting it out on the fly gave her a new perspective on the story.

“I had no idea what the story was, but it was cool to learn and play the scene at the same time,” Vianney said.

Both Vianney and Gary, who acted the part of Mordecai, said they would participate in the Purim Spiel again.

“I had no idea what I was expecting, but it ended up being really funny, and everyone was laughing,” Vianney said. “It was a fun way to celebrate a religion and a holiday that I didn’t know too much about.”

Part of the traditional Jewish celebration of Purim is ensuring that the surrounding community is able to celebrate the holiday with good food.

Earlier that day, Hillel members also organized a “Mishloach Manot” buffet in the Student Commons, where students could create Care Packages for other students.

Students could take a bag and fill it with all different kinds of candy, cookies and chips. The students could then address the bags to a friend. The labels also featured an explanation of the “Mishloach Manot” and the reasons for the holiday.