Even the global pandemic could not stop the infectious happiness of the carnival season this winter. On 25-26 February, Jews around the world celebrated Purim, a festival commemorating the heroic actions of Queen Esther as recorded in the Megillah, or Book of Esther. Queen Esther was the Jewish consort of the Persian King Ahasuerus: when informed that a plot had been hatched to annihilate the empire’s Jewish population, she thwarts the plans of the evil courtier Haman with her courage and spunk. Even though Jews today could not celebrate in the ways they normally would, the Ertegun Bible Study Group found a creative solution to share the joy of Purim with the House.
Ertegun Bible Study is a scholar-organised group where we read texts from the Old and New Testament each week, analysing and reflecting on their continuing importance in our lives. It is a special group because it is both ecumenical and interfaith: we have students from Protestant and Confessional backgrounds, and I am happy to represent the entirety of the Jewish faith. In Hilary term, we read the Book of Esther from start to finish, and were looking for ways to celebrate the ‘Jewish carnival.’
One Purim tradition is mishloach manot, care packages you traditionally gift to strangers. Their purpose is to unify and nourish, and what better time in history to do that than during a worldwide crisis? We decided to put together mishloach manot for anyone in the House who wanted one regardless of religious affiliation (self-care knows no boundaries).
We got to work planning what items we wanted to include in the care package, and assembled what I can reasonably call a pretty dope collection: face masks, hand lotion, chocolate in various forms (chewable and drinkable), tea, and instruments for celebrating the downfall of Haman, including noisemakers, bubbles, and glow sticks. The whole kit and kaboodle was packaged in a reusable bag from Tesco decorated with doughnuts, just to gild the lilies. We even had a bonus item: boxes of biscuits handmade by friar Andrew! It truly was an interfaith effort.
Purim goody bags
Noel, Stephan, and I put together the packages in a Ford factory-style assembly line, making sure recipients with dietary restrictions or who were far away from Oxford got special treats. I sent off my charges (and Maria) to distribute to everyone’s desk. All the recipients also received an email with details about Purim and a fun video to watch. The best part was receiving messages of gratitude- people were especially excited about the hand lotion after a year of hand sanitiser.
Sneak peak of the contents
On Purim itself, our Bible Study got together on Zoom to celebrate, including reading out parts of the Megillah and booing or cheering when we read the names of Haman and Esther.
It was a wholesome and COVID-safe project to connect the House, to spread awareness of this holiday, and to bring light in an otherwise dreary English winter.
Chag Purim sameach!