On Sunday, March 8th, a group of Engage Brooklyn and Manhattan volunteers traveled to the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst (JCH) to assist with their annual Purim carnival.
When we arrived, we were greeted with great warmth and treated to a tour of the historic JCH—whose doors opened in 1927—and who have provided community services to a variety of different cultural groups over the years. Currently, JCH serves the local Jewish, Russian, and Asian populations. The stately community house is a combination of a social service agency; settlement house; and JCC for the local community, with language and citizenship classes, a nursery school, sports and many more activities.
We then saw hundreds of excited children just as the Purim carnival was about to begin. Children love the holiday of Purim...what’s not to like? It is full of costumes, candy, games, stories, and funny sketches. Children dress up as queens and kings, superheroes, and villains—really just about anywhere their imagination takes them.
The Purim carnival featured face painting, food, games, rides, music, and dancing. Engage volunteers assisted the children in fulfilling the Purim tradition of preparing Mishloach Manot (bags of food and candy). With Engage volunteers facilitating, the children decorated colored bags with sparkles and stars, along with their names. Then the volunteers filled the bags with hamantaschen, candy, and crayons for the children.
Even for adults, Purim is known as the holiday of celebration and merriment. A chance to step out of our usual roles and take off our everyday “masks,” to have fun and to make fun, to drink to oblivion. Still, Purim has a couple of commandments, such as reading the Purim story in the Megillah (connecting with our past); Mishloach Manot, giving gifts of food to friends (connecting with the community); and Matanot LaEvyonim, giving charity to the poor (social justice).
So, even in the midst of all the madness, the values of community and social action are remembered—those same values that underlie the Engage Jewish Service Corps.