More than 500 Howard County Jewish religious school students and their families came together for the first time on Sunday, Feb. 25, at a pre-Purim Palooza event designed to bring Hebrew schools and students into a community Sunday school of learning together at Long Reach High School in Columbia.
The idea for a joint, pre- carnival learning event came out of the Jewish Federation of Howard County offices, where associate director Meghann Schwartz noticed declining Purim Palooza numbers for religious school-age children and was hearing from attendees that the 1 p.m. Purim carnival was traditional nap time for toddlers and younger.
“[Meghann] approached me almost two years ago with this type of idea,” said one of the event organizers, Rabbi Daniel Plotkin, Rabbi educator at Temple Isaiah’s religious school. “I took her ideas to the Howard County Board of Rabbis and we convened a meeting of the Howard County educators to see what type of buy-in we had and how we could make it a reality.”
The pre-carnival education sessions, for children and adults, focused on the deeper meanings of and lessons that can be drawn from the original Purim story, as well as storytelling, crafts and games.
Sessions for children included “I Spy Groggers,” “Mini Shalach Manot,” “Israeli Dancing,” “Purim Jeopardy,” “Shushan Idol,” “Mini Purim Shpiels” and “Unmasking the Hidden Story of Purim.” Adult offerings included “The Megillah: Reading Between the Lines,” “The Role of Women in the Purim Story” and “The Inner Meaning of Purim: Teachings of Mystical Judaism.”
“Besides the learning about Purim, my hope is that the students got a broader view of their Jewish community and that for students who don’t go to school day to day with many Jewish students, they were exposed to the idea that there are more Jews in our area than just those who attend the same religious school,” Plotkin said.
The rabbi- and cantor-led event was packed, according to the Federation’s Hanni Werner, with students and parents from across the community learning about Purim together.
“Even the two adult education classrooms were full, giving our parents and volunteers an opportunity to learn before the day even began,” Werner said via email. “Many people gave feedback that this year’s Purim Palooza was the best one yet.”
Event organizer Jerry Kiewe said that although there was plenty of discussion beforehand of how the event would come together, “there was never any wavering on the overall concept.”
“I speak for all involved in saying that probably the most gratifying aspect was seeing all of our institutions gather together in one place and demonstrate the true spirit of Am Yisrael Echad: we are all one community,” Kiewe said. “And as one who also has lived and worked in many other Jewish communities, I note that this sort of cooperative, interdenominational effort has become a rarity. Kudos to Howard County and to the Jewish Federation for maintaining an environment where this is still a prevailing value.”
With the warm reception the pre-carnival learning event received this year, plans are to continue it just like Howard County’s successful 26-year-old Purim Palooza.