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Renewal of faith
Peoria Chabad commemorates Purim

March 8, 2004

It was a celebration of Jewish survival, a recognition of Jewish prosperity.

Approximately 100 Jewish community members gathered Sunday at Barrack's Cater Inn for the Chabad of Peoria's Purim. The festival is an annual celebration that recognizes the Jews' triumph over Haman's decree to eliminate all Jews in one day.

"We are to celebrate the reunification of Jewish identity and renew our Jewish faith," coordinator Rabbi Eli Langsam said. "God was on our side, and we are here to prove that no one can wipe us out."

There are four requirements to Purim: Eating a festive meal, reading the Megillah (the biblical book of Esther), sending of gifts of food and giving to charity.

With an Israeli-themed fare featuring hummus, pita and falafel, a traditional Hebrew reading of the Megillah, gifts of kosher treats and free admission, Sunday's celebration covered all bases.

While the Peoria Chabad has celebrated Purim in the past, this year marked its first official Purim feast.

Bradley University student Elissa Galster came with friends from Hillel, the university's Jewish organization. Galster came out of religious obligation, but said the extensive menu was a bonus.

"There is no other time you can get food like this here," Galster said. "Plus, it brings together the Jewish community of Peoria, which is smaller than Chicago or St. Louis where many of us come from. It's a great opportunity for us to get together."

The event consisted of much more than just food. Young and old alike paraded in costumes

ranging from Batmans to princesses as they listened to traditional Jewish music and made arts and crafts.

"To dress up is tradition," Langsam said. "It is to show that with the plot of Haman, the truth was turned upside down."

The Chabad was full of festivity as vibrant posters of Israel lined the walls and families energetically churned their noisemakers to drown out Haman's name during the reading of the Megillah.

"The kids listen for Haman's name," Putnam resident Yona Lunken said. "It helps them pay attention to the Hebrew reading."

Lunken came to the event with his two children. He hopes that by teaching them their Jewish heritage while they are young they will better understand their roots.

"The most important thing about Judaism is teaching it to the children," Lunken said. "So much is oriented toward children to give them a positive experience so they can remember it, learn it and teach it."

Abby Landau, 10, of Dunlap is training to do just that.

Dressed in a pink taffeta gown, Landau doubled as a princess and a Jewish pupil.

"I'm learning about why we have Purim and how things worked back in those days" she said. "I get a view of what it was like back then."

Ben Seitzman was another eager student at the event. Decked out in a Spaniard costume complete with matching sombrero, he said the Purim celebration is one way the Chabad makes learning about Judaism fun.

"If you don't know how to translate Hebrew, you don't really learn," he said. "Here, they teach you, and they do it in really creative ways."

Copyright 2004/Peoria Journal Star/Reprinted With Permission
No further reproduction by any means permitted.