To celebrate Purim, an annual holiday devoted to the deliverance of the Jewish people from Anti-Semitic attack in ancient Persia, the Stuyvesant Jewish Club hosted a “Purim Party” on Thursday, March 8. The club’s annual party takes place on the day of the actual holiday, which, despite varying from year to year, is always in March.
Although organized and led by the Jewish club, the party was open to everyone in the Stuyvesant community. Non-Jewish students and teachers were also encouraged to attend and were offered a taste of this unique portion of Jewish culture. In fact, non-Jewish attendees played a big role in the celebration, according to history teacher and Jewish Club adviser Michael Waxman. “It was wonderful to see students and faculty from diverse backgrounds come in,” he said. “It was not just Jewish people. Jewish people brought their non- Jewish friends too.”
Traditionally, participants are expected to become intoxicated enough to no longer discern the difference between “Curse Haman” (the Anti-Semitic enemy of the Jewish people) and “Bless Mordecai” (the hero of the Jewish people). “The nature of the holiday is in itself different,” Waxman said of the unique rituals.
The party began with an explanation of the Purim holiday as Waxman provided students with Hebrew and English scrolls that gave explanation of the holiday’s origins.
“It’s basically a Jewish Halloween,” sophomore and Jewish Club member Austin Ostro said. “It’s unique in that it is the only happy Jewish holiday. We ate triangle cookies called hamentaschens, danced in costumes and prayed with a rabbi dressed as a clown”
Within the Jewish population at Stuyvesant, many feel events such as these help to create a smaller community with which to identify in the school’s diverse environment.
“Stuyvesant recently lost its Hebrew course, so it has become more difficult to identify one’s self as a Jew here,” sophomore and Jewish Club member Jack Cahn said. “[One of the] only ways to identify yourself as a Jew [...] is the Jewish Club. The Jewish club is where all of these kids can come together from all over the city with different backgrounds. We have reform Jews and we have orthodox Jews [...] and we all get together to celebrate our various holidays. Everyone is given the opportunity to get really engulfed in the culture,” he said
Other students, however, feel the Jewish Club is not particularly effective in creating a unified Jewish community.
“I’m not the biggest fan of the Jewish Club,” Ostro said. “Many reform Jews, like me, are overwhelmed by the club sometimes. At the celebration we had to use teffilin for prayer, which is an Orthodox thing that I personally don’t use, so it’s hard to get used to things like that,” he said.
“The club puts me off sometimes because of its intensity,” sophomore and reform Jew Jonah Shifrin said. “It doesn’t really feel like the Jewish Club is the right place for me to express my Judaism.”
Waxman, however, was still proud of the outcome. “We had a whole bunch of kids that came in and played Mahjong while learning about the holiday,” he said. “That’s multicultural and opens people’s minds.”