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Massive Campus-Wide Purim Celebration Draws Record Crowds To Chabad At Rutgers
Chabad House at Rutgers, under the direction of Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, hosted a unique, multi-media Purim Extravaganza for college students and community members on Saturday night, Feb. 23 at its new mega center on College Avenue in New Brunswick.

More than 400 college students, as well as Jewish professors and community members, most dressed in a wide variety of festive costumes, had the opportunity to participate in the mitzvot and traditions of Purim. The program began with a warm welcome and introduction to Purim by Rabbi Baruch Goodman, Chabad’s Campus Director, who thanked the many student organizers, and spoke of the miracles that took place for our people some 2,300 years ago through two very special biblical leaders from our history, Esther and Mordechai. “We’re here to recognize and thank G-d for the miracles He brought for our ancestors many years ago, at this time of year, and to ask for more of the same today, when we need Him the most,” said Rabbi Goodman who was dressed in a sailor captain costume. “We hope people get inspired tonight, because that’s what Jewish holidays are all about. And especially the lessons we learned from that original Purim, a unique taste of redemption that happened while the Jews were in exile, just like we are today.”

The celebrants then heard a lively rendition of the Megillah – the Book of Esther – read by Chabad’s Education Director Rabbi Shaya Shagalow, dressed as a Chassidic cowboy, and assisted by Rutgers Junior, Eitan Itzkowitz, while watching a colorful, cartoon powerpoint presentation during the reading operated by Talia Friedman and Ross Leibowitz. Attendees then enjoyed an Israeli cuisine buffet of stone-ground whole wheat pitas, falafel, Israeli salads and spreads, eggplant parmesan, Turkish moussaka lasagna, and mixed drinks (only mocktails were served, as most students are under 21).

The meal then featured a viennese spread of raspberry, apricot and prune hamantaschen, some of which were baked by the students themselves at a pre-Purim “Hamantaschen Baking” social a few nights before.

Rabbi Goodman also explained the meaning of the name “Purim," the holiday, which means "lots," after the lot cast by the villain Haman to determine the date on which he planned to annihilate the Jewish people who were then primarily living in Iran, during the Persian exile. Instead, a crazy turn of events via the efforts of Mordechai, Esther, and the Jews of Persia, caused the villain himself to be hung, which led to a great deliverance then, and continues with yearly parties ever since! In that spirit, several raffles were held throughout the party.

Highlights of the party included an exciting concert by pop Jewish rapper, Hebro, as well as an interactive, middle-eastern drum circle led internationally acclaimed Drum Café. Students sat around, each with their own djebe drum, and jived and jammed Purim tunes all night, while Purim dancers shared their talents and shtick. The event also featured bouncy rides, football, baseball and jousting inflatables, as well as children’s carnival booths.

The well-attended event was organized by Chabad student president Jessica Loren, a Rutgers senior and Pharmacy major, student vice president Matt Montel, a Rutgers senior majoring in Health Sciences and Nursing, and student treasurer Jackie Roberman, a Rutgers sophomore majoring in Criminal Justice. Student volunteers included: Talia Friedman, Ross Leibowitz, Josh Levy, Ilanit Rabinovich, Ilona Grudnikoff, Ross Yellin, and Alison Samuel who organized and set up the Purim carnival. In addition, under the leadership of Rabbi Shagalow, residents of the Ocsar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living were visited on Purim day by students Ilanit Rabinovich, Ilona Grudnikoff, Benjy Elson, Doran Shapiro, Daniel Kohanim, Ross Leibowitz, Josh Levy, Jack Mamiye and Eitan Itzkowitz.

Rutgers Sophomore Mitch Siegel commented that “this Purim party was both exciting and inspiring at the same time. I don’t know how these Chabad rabbis pull this stuff off, but they had something for everybody!” While the participants were drumming in the circle, an 8 year-old boy, whose name is not being published by request of his parents, jumped into the middle and started beat boxing and breakdancing for the crowd.

“It was awesome, so much more fun than I expected,” said Lucas Krief, an exchange student from France. “I felt very good seeing so many people my age getting so excited about the Jewish holiday.”

Towards the end of the event, Mishloach Manot Purim packages containing hamantaschen, goodies, and some coins to fulfill the mitzvah of Matanot L’evyonim – tzekokah for the poor, where distributed to all participants to both enjoy and share with friends the next day, on the day of Purim.

Although originally scheduled to take place in the Rutgers Student Center, due to a last-minute surprise outside food vendor restriction, the event had to be moved to the Chabad House. “I’m glad it was at Chabad House,” stated Chabad student leader Josh Herzfeld, “I guess G-d wanted us to be celebrating in our new building instead.”


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