Jewish-holiday-wise, Purim is sneaky. It creeps up in mid-February or March every year, just as we’re reeling from our second try at New Year’s resolutions, and are already thinking about Passover. (Mark your calendars – Purim starts on Wednesday night, February 28th!)
For those who need a little refresher as to what this holiday is all about – I’ve got you covered. Purim celebrates the story of the Book of Esther, when the Jews were saved from Haman’s evil plot. You may have heard it called “The Jewish Halloween” because of the awesome costumes worn to celebrate the holiday. It’s also the holiday when we shake rice-filled water bottles and make triangular hamentaschen cookies (plot twist: fill them with nutella?).
There are four core mitzvot (commandments) for celebrating Purim:
- Reading the Book of Esther
- Sending Mishloach Manot (snack goodie bags for neighbors and friends)
- Eating a festive meal (with plenty of adult beverages for those who choose to partake)
- Giving gifts to the poor (Matanot Le’evyonim). This mitzvah is our expression of gratitude for when Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai saved the Jews from being killed.
In my view, the last I listed – Matanot Le’evyonim, or gifts to the poor – is rarely emphasized in our general understanding of Purim. The Purim spirit is one of fun, filled with costumes, community parties, delicious Hamentaschen cookies, and general positivity and merriment. This year, I challenge us to put a bit more focus into the Matanot Le’evyonim mitzvah – to not just satisfy the mitzvah by giving to charity, but to truly carry over the positive spirit of joy and celebration that is Purim into acts of service.
These four mitzvot are all part of the Purim holiday! Here’s how to participate in all four – check out these happenings across DC to bring you closer to the Purim spirit!
Megillah: Reading of the Book of Esther
Listen to the Megillat Esther (the book of Esther) read aloud. When you add in maracas, rice-filled water bottles, plastic “noisemakers” from Party City, and enthusiastic booing for good measure – fulfilling this mitzvah is much more fun than it sounds.
You can hear the megillah reading at:
- Sixth and I’s Grogger and Glow extravaganza (and get your mishloach manot goodie bags and Purim seudah “libations”)
- The ShulDC (Chabad)’s The Great Washington DC Purim Party
- Can’t make it out or need accommodations? Check out Adas Israel’s livestream! Contact their office for access.
Mishloach Manot: Make gift bags for friends, family, and neighbors
If you want to send mishloach manot (gifts of food), make sure to include hamentaschen! (This may be controversial, but the best flavor is definitely poppyseed.) Get a head start on these gift bags with:
- Moishe House Northern Virginia’s Hamentaschen 101 – February 18th
- Moishe House Columbia Heights DIY Hamentaschen Baking/Eating – February 27th (Get your ticket here!)
Spread the joy of hamentaschen to all: consider donating hamentaschen you bake to local senior centers like Congregation Etz Hayim did this past weekend at the Culpepper Garden senior living facility in Arlington.
Seudat Purim: Have a festive meal
This is the one mitzvah that everyone seems to remember as “it’s a mitzvah to get drunk on Purim!” Although this injunction does tell Jews to “drink until you don’t know the difference between Haman and Mordechai” – what it is saying, on a deeper level, is to find a way to look beyond our rational minds, and tap into our deepest, faith-based self – and, of course, to have lots of fun! However, for those of us who aren’t big into drinking – you can still celebrate this mitzvah with a delicious meal (filled with foods symbolic of the Purim story), and by letting go of stress and totally relaxing into the spirit of the holiday.
Celebrate this fun mitzvah by:
- Applying for Moishe House Without Walls funding and having your own party
- Rescheduling your Purim Seudah for Friday night and hosting through OneTable!
- Joining The Ohev Young Professionals for their Seudah on March 1st
Consider providing a seudah or feast for others – collect cans or non-perishable food at your Purim meal for a local food pantry! See what places like So Others May Eat (SOME) need. In the truest millenial fashion, consider having guests purchase items in need off of Miriam’s Kitchen’s Amazon Wishlist.
Matanot Le’evyonim: Giving back to those in need
Incorporating the spirit of service into the other Purim mitzvot can also help in bringing the spirit of Purim joy to the mitzvah of Matanot Le’evyonim! This Purim mitzvah invites us to help at least two people and to provide enough food for a full meal. Go bigger than our typical mitzvah to give tzedakah, or charity, and bring the joyous Purim spirit to this mitzvah!
- Join Hunger Action at the Edlavitch DCJCC on March 8th to provide meals for those in need
- Join YP@AI for their monthly visit to Patricia Handy Place to serve Sunday night dinner on March 18th (definitely a chai-light!)
There are so many ways to infuse Purim joy into service work. Some may choose to give traditional tzedakah gifts, but others may prefer to give their time, energy, and skills. Read this article for more ways to give back across DC.
However you celebrate, wishing you a chag Purim sameach – a happy and joyous Purim!
About the Author: Shira Cohen is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! When not writing about volunteer opportunities in DC, she works in student life and disability services at a local law school. Originally from Charleston, SC, Shira loves DC Library $1 book sales and District Taco.