Africa theme unites Jewish community for Purim

The Chronicle News

Monroe NY — Chabad of Orange County’s annual Purim celebration was an African-themed party offering a way for Jews of diverse backgrounds to celebrate Purim together.

Rabbi Pesach Burston, dressed in authentic African garb, welcomed the crowd of 175 men, woman and children from throughout the county who came to the party on March 4 at the American Legion Hall in Monroe. The evening began with the traditional reading of the Megillah scroll of Esther, which depicts the story of Purim. Simultaneously, participants viewed a multi-media slide show illustrating the historical events of Purim. To drown out the name of the wicked adversary Haman, children enthusiastically jumped on gigantic bubble wrap, shook graggers (noisemakers,) and pounded on African drums.

All enjoyed an elaborate kosher African cuisine, including dishes such as kuku paka (curry chicken), mafe (beef with noodles) and Zanzibar pilu (sweet rice). The banquet hall was decorated to provide an African-style atmosphere. Sheets of bamboo laden with clay pots and handcrafted drums decorated the tables. Wooden masks and decorative African material hung throughout the room, and the beat of African-Jewish music filled the hall.

During the meal, with an African accent and drum in hand, Rabbi Burston led the crowd in the “Peace Song,” which sings of “peace in the east, peace in the west, peace in the north and peace in the south.” Adults and children of all ages clapped and drummed to the beat as they sang.

“I haven’t had this much fun at a Purim party since I was a young child,” said Veronique Benichou of Cornwall.

Another highlight of the party was the “Drum Tales” presentation, led by Shmeuli Perkel of South Africa. Children and adults sat on large African drums as they heard the story of Purim told in a percussive interactive musical tale.

“Mommy, I rode a horse to Persia and went on a magical trip to Queen Esther’s palace!” Rachel Kogan, 3, of Highland Mills, told her mother after she experienced the Drum Tales program.

Participants viewed a display of pictures of Rabbi Burston’s trip to Africa, where he studied and worked for Chabad in 1997 and 1998. Another attraction was a display of African scenes photographed by the late Gregg Wenzel, son of Mitch and Gladys Wenzel of Monroe.

The grand costume masquerade was led by Chabad’s youth leaders, Molly Leader and Leah Lewis as well as Olga Pashkin, a teen from Highland Mills. Children and adults “walked the red carpet” to present their unique costumes and receive an African prize.

“The historical events recounted in the Megillah scroll can be viewed as consequential, as opposed to miraculous,” explained Chana Burston, who wore an elaborate African style dress, authentic African jewelry and a decorative turban. “By wearing costumes, which conceal our identity, we are reminded that although seemingly concealed, G-d’s hand is what caused salvation for the Jewish people.”

Children decorated African-style drums and all participants received traditional “Mishloach Manot” packages filled with Purim goodies. The event was partly sponsored by Mel Firer of Boneim Builders, David Rein of Community Communications, the Sandow, Berkowitz and Wenzel families.