The Biblical holiday of Purim, which is established in the Book of Esther, celebrates a chain of events in which a decree issued to murder all Jews in ancient Persia was overturned and the Jews were miraculously saved.
Purim is celebrated (this year on March 10) with four specific commandments (mitzvot): the public reading of the Book of Esther; eating a lavish feast; exchanging food packages with friends; and giving charity to the poor. However, for Israel’s 1.7 million citizens living under the poverty line, fulfilling most of these obligations is only a dream.
Therefore, Colel Chabad, running charitable activities in Israel since 1788, ensures that needy Israelis celebrate Purim with festive joy as well.
“Though Colel Chabad provides hot meals, food packages and charity for the poor year-round, we go out of our way on Purim to create an especially wonderful atmosphere for impoverished Jews,” said Rabbi Moshe Deutsch, chief financial officer for Colel Chabad, to Breaking Israel News. “In order to protect people’s dignity and self-respect, we advertise in each neighborhood that there will be a huge party with a band and special food. Everyone is welcomed and happy to attend.”
Colel Chabad maintains 24 soup kitchens throughout Israel which have room for about 80 people each at a time. On Purim, however, four times that number of people come for the holiday meal and to hear the Book of Esther read aloud. In addition, Colel Chabad gives each visitor a charitable gift.
One of the foremost year-round Biblical commandments is the giving of charity, “tzedakah” in Hebrew. Tzedakah has the same Hebrew root as the word “tzedek“, which means justice. A society that supports its poorest members, including widows, orphans, and the ill, is considered a just and compassionate society.
On Purim, however, the obligation to give charity is even stronger. In fact, the Talmud (Oral law) states that “all who extend a hand are given”. Therefore, Purim is a particularly apropos time to give and receive as all are doing one or the other throughout the day.
“Due to the enormous amounts of people who join Colel Chabad for Purim, we hold our parties in synagogues,” continued Rabbi Deutsch. “People love to come and appreciate the warm and happy atmosphere that we create. We encourage guests to fully enjoy the event and have fun.”
Though Colel Chabad provides weekly food packages to 8,500 families and housebound seniors, at Purim time, the number of people benefiting from the organization’s charitable activities multiplies. Housebound seniors cared for year-round by Colel Chabad enjoy extra care on Purim.
Esther Deutsch, Rabbi Deutsch’s wife, manages the volunteers who visit senior citizens in their homes, keeping files on each senior’s individual needs. For Purim, she enlists extra help from high school girls who deliver specially prepared Purim packages to people’s homes. The small groups of girls visit with the lonely and sick seniors.
“The girls dress up in colorful costumes as part of the day’s commandment to put smiles on people’s faces,” shared Esther with Breaking Israel News. “They sing and dance for the lonely, elderly people they visit and do everything possible to make the holiday happier for them.”
Often, the girls who volunteer on Purim decide to stay in contact with the seniors to whom they deliver packages. They continue to visit them on a regular basis throughout the year.
“One of our volunteers visited a Holocaust survivor with no living relatives,” told Esther. “The girl felt compassion for the lonely woman and kept visiting her once a week. In the course of their conversations, the girl discovered that her own grandmother was from the same town in Europe as the woman. She arranged for the two elderly ladies to meet. They discovered that they had been on the same transport train, a train that took them out of Poland and saved them from a sure death. They spoke Polish together and reminisced about their lives before the war, becoming friends. Today, that once lonely Holocaust survivor is now adopted by the volunteer’s family and attends all of their celebrations. All this in the merit of Purim!”
As Purim is a particularly auspicious time for miracles, Esther, her crew of volunteers, Colel Chabad, and all who share in the merriment of the holiday fill with great anticipation at what wonderments God will reap this year, especially for those who need it most. “Ensuring that Israel’s poor, needy and lonely experience extra joy, help and support is a miracle unto itself,” smiled Esther. “Being a messenger for God’s miracles is a blessing.”
To donate to Colel Chabad, please visit here.