The Jewish holiday of Purim, celebrated this year on March 12, is commemorated in unique ways as compared to other Jewish holidays. While most holidays have a relatively somber tone, Purim is known for its festivities of feasting, drinking and dressing up. However, for Israel’s needy and lonely citizens, enjoying Purim is a challenge. Therefore, Meir Panim, Israel’s premiere charity organization, has organized unique activities to enhance the day for all.
On Purim, the Book of Esther is publicly read and there are two reasons for this commandment. The first is in fulfillment of Jewish law to “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. ” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18) The second is to remind participants of God’s presence in our lives, even when He appears hidden.
It is interesting to note that God’s name never appears in the Book of Esther. Yet, He performed great miracles to save the Jewish people from the evil Haman’s plan (Haman is traditionally known as a descendant of Amalek) to annihilate the Jewish people in 357 BCE. Though the story happened thousands of years ago, we are commanded to remember the good God does for us and to celebrate lavishly.
In addition, the Book of Esther decrees specific commandments which one must fulfill on the holiday. These include eating a festive meal, exchanging food packages with friends, and giving charity to the needy.
“The commandments of Purim are not ‘suggestions’,” told Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim. “These are obligations. Yet, for Israel’s 1.7 million poverty stricken citizens, fulfilling God’s commands are an impossibility.”
In order to ensure that as many people as possible both enjoy and observe God’s commandments on Purim, Meir Panim goes out of its way to provide what is needed to celebrate the holiday. At their free restaurant-style soup kitchens throughout the Israel, patrons enjoy extra holiday delicacies and volunteers often don costumes in the spirit of the day.
“Meir Panim strives both to remedy immediate hunger as well as help people out of the vicious cycle of poverty,” continued Sternbuch. “Purim is a ‘giving’ holiday. We are commanded to give food and charity. Therefore, every soup-kitchen patron receives two gift packages. One for themselves and one to give away to someone else. People need to feel that they are also givers.”
Though giving charity is a year-round Jewish commandment, on Purim the Talmud states that “everyone who asks shall receive”. Therefore, Purim is the day of the year particularly known as a time to give and receive.
Thus, Meir Panim’s youth programs have arranged for the children, who are from poverty stricken homes, to be givers. For Purim, the children will dress up and visit the homes of elderly and homebound people to deliver packages of food provided by Meir Panim. They will do the same at their local hospitals striving to bring joy and generosity to those who may need it more than they do.
“It is important for everyone to know that they can be a giver,” shared Sternbuch. “No matter what a person’s circumstances are, everyone has something to give, whether it is a warm smile or a large donation. Giving is what makes the world a better place.”