Celebrating Purim in a Pandemic

Published Friday, February 19, 2021
by Barbara Murray, WJCS Jewish Cultural Specialist

The residents of WJCS Chai House, like everyone else during this pandemic, have had to reinvent how to create meaningful Jewish programing through our weekly Zoom gatherings. Chai House is Westchester's only kosher group residence for Jewish female adults with developmental disabilities Traditionally, in non-Covid times, the women living in Chai House engage with several of our community Havorah partners to celebrate Jewish holidays. With no in-person gatherings allowed, this year we've aimed to create programs that are inclusive, socially distanced, and designed so that everyone’s learning styles are met.

Purim is what many consider the most fun and interactive holiday of the Jewish year. How would we create and translate that experience through our Zoom gatherings? We developed a variety of differentiated learning activities and the added support of several of our community Havorah partners so we could still celebrate Purim in a meaningful way.

We began our Purim learning with Rabbi David Schuck of Beth El Synagogue Center in New Rochelle joining us on Zoom. Rabbi Schuck talked about the story of Purim and led us with his guitar as we sang various songs. The ladies loved seeing Rabbi Schuck or as they refer to him as “their Chai House Rabbi.” That is actually the reality, as Chai House residents have all been welcomed to Beth El with their own memberships. Reminiscing with Rabbi Schuck about all the different costumes they wore  and Purim plays put on during past years has helped us all stay connected.

We have approached Purim with activities that speak to everyone’s likes and strengths. We are listening to music from Israeli and American artists; watching some serious and some funny videos; practicing relaxation breathing techniques, and learning songs in English and Hebrew. Favorite activities include playing Purim Bingo, finding the hidden hamentashen in pictures and creating lists of all the different triangle-shaped foods we could eat. (We came up with 15 so far)! 

What would a holiday celebration be without food> For the Chai House ladies, cooking is always a highlight!  We will be doing our first Zoom group cooking program, making “short cut” hamentashen. We will vote for our favorite, least favorite, and silliest fillings.

Synagogues that host some of our in-person Havorah programs are enhancing this year's activities, even though we can't be together in person. Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bedford Corners will be sending us a video of the Purim Story, created by their senior staff. The teens from Bet Torah in Mount Kisco will be sending us a video of songs, activities, and greeting to share with Chai House and all the WJCS homes. Bet Am Shalom in White Plains will be sending Chai House Shaloach Manot bags, thereby fulfilling the holiday tradition of bringing treats and joy to friends and neighbors.

Through all the challenges that COVID-19 has presented, we are so inspired and proud that everyone has risen to the occasion to make our time together special and celebratory. The staff, families, partners, and the women of Chai House are a dedicated and resilient extended family that have navigated this past year with grace and strength. As Purim approaches, let the fun begin! Chag Sameach. 

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