Whether it be days off from school, dreidels and latkes or lavish holiday meals cooked by the stereotypical Jewish mother who is convinced that her baby is not eating enough in college, it seems every calendar month has some kind of Jewish holiday. February is no exception to that rule, Purim falls right during midterm season, giving students something to celebrate when taking a break from their studies.
For students who are used to going all out for Purim (outrageous costume parades/contests, community-wide megillah reading) it might feel as if it won’t be possible to celebrate the holiday as significantly here on campus. But it is.
For those who aren’t familiar with the holiday, Purim celebrates what most Jewish holidays tend to celebrate— the salvation of the Jewish people from a plot to destroy them. As an old joke goes, “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat”.
More specifically, the holiday celebrates the story of the Jewish people being saved in the ancient Persian Empire under the rule of King Ahasueras (thought to be King Xerxes I) after a Jewish woman named Esther, along with her uncle Mordechai, convinced the Persian king to disregard his advisor Haman’s plot to kill the Persian Jews. During the holiday, it is traditional to engage in public recitations of the Scroll of Esther, exchange gifts in the form of mishloach manot (gift baskets of food and drink), give charity to the needy, enjoy a hearty festive meal and engage in general merriment, usually in the forms of dressing in hilarious costumes and drinking copious amounts of wine.
In fact, there are three very large, fun ways a student (Jewish or non-Jewish) could celebrate Purim here at USC:
Check with the Jewish organizations on campus
These include Chabad, Hillel, and JAM, all very friendly organizations who are always looking to enhance any student’s Jewish experience at USC. Chabad in particular has planned a jam-packed week of activities- if you missed Wednesday night’s hamentashen baking and decorating session, you can still attend multiple other Purim celebrations! According to Rabbi Dov Wagner of Chabad, this weekend holds in store both a Persian Shabbat dinner on Friday night (6:30 p.m at the Chabad house) and a “Purim in the Wild” party on Saturday night that will include a DJ, masquerade, food, hamentashen, and even a giant blow-up gorilla. Students can get more information from the Facebook event here.
“I’m most excited for the hamentashen,” says Casey Fullman, a freshman majoring in business administration.
Additionally, says Wagner, students will have the opportunity to attend megillah readings on Sunday as well, at 11 a.m and 5 p.m, the latter of which is followed by a Purim meal at the Chabad house (which requires an RSVP).
Plan a Mishloach Manot gift exchange with your friends
Just because you’re a college student on a college budget, doesn’t mean that you still can’t engage in the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot. You wouldn’t really have to go out of your way to do it— stuff your baskets to the brim with hamentashen from Chabad, candies and snacks from TroGro/Seeds and maybe even fun little toys from Dollar Dollar. If you’re short on cash—and you feel like living on the edge— you could try sneaking out (gasp) more than one pastry or fruit from EVK. Just be careful as this could backfire if you get caught and get slapped with a hefty $100 fine.
This gift exchange could be either Secret Santa-style or White Elephant— either option promises to be a good time. Get a group together and decide where you want to hold the gift exchange— you could do it inside, and make it a fun night in, or choose to hold it at a favorite local restaurant.
Find a friend who lives in the area and spend the holiday with them
At USC, there are plenty of students who are local, and many of them tend to prefer to celebrate the holidays in the comfort of their own home.
“This Purim, I am most excited to go home and bake hamentashen with my mother to be delivered to relatives, friends, and needy families in the neighborhood,” says Yoni Arbel, a sophomore majoring in economics who lives not far from USC.
Joining friends like Yoni could be a great way to experience Purim in a different, potentially more personal way— sometimes all you really need is a great home-cooked meal. And, just like the other activities, you don’t have to be Jewish to participate.
“I’m Catholic, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to go home with my friend from L.A this weekend to experience Purim for the first time,” says Jared Brow, a freshman majoring in international relations global business and Spanish. “Being Catholic shouldn’t restrict me to only knowing about my own faith. I enjoy learning about other religions and their traditions so that I can have a more well-rounded religious experience. I’m excited to learn what Purim is all about!”
Whichever method of celebration you do choose to utilize this holiday, don’t forget that you’re not alone— according to USC Hillel, an estimated twelve percent of USC’s student population is Jewish, so there’s bound to be multiple Purim celebrations going on. Eat, drink, and be merry— Chag Sameach!