Purim Spring Break


by Dvora Lakein - Cancun, Mexico

March 9, 2009

(lubavitch.com) Sun. Surf. Scuba. Nightlife. Ancient Mayan civilization. Ancient Persian history. Ancient Persian History? Well yes, if you are spending Purim with Chabad in Cancun.

Almost 2 million students across the country will be hitting the beaches and slopes this week. But though they will have finished their midterms and packed away their notes, Jewish students won’t be closing the books on their Jewish experiences. Wherever they are for spring break, Chabad is bringing Purim to them.

The forecast for Purim day is 86 degrees in Cancun where Rabbi Mendel Druk and his wife Rachel serve the native and tourist communities. Though he says numbers always vary, Druk expects approximately 150 students and locals to attend Tuesday’s Mexican Purim Fiesta. Indigenous Mexican chefs will prepare the kosher feast and party-goers will boo Haman with traditional graggers as well as maracas.

But why do students seek out the Jewish scene while vacationing from the rest of their lives and responsibilities?

“Spring break can be chaotic, and for students there is a lot of peer pressure,” explains Druk. His Chabad House is on the strip of glitzy hotels and Druk can see the “wild and irresponsible behavior” that characterizes the two-month stretch when different universities release their students for spring break. Vacationing students flock to his center for Shabbat meals and holiday programming, and a chance to “achieve a moment of sanity amongst all this insanity.”

The Druks welcome guests every Shabbat throughout the year. “Every week different students come to our table with regards from their campus Rabbis,” says Druk. He considers his dinners a success because students always come with the intention of making the Chabad House the first stop on a night filled with partying. “But they usually all end up staying until very late,” he proudly notes.

“You can see that they are so comfortable in the Chabad house setting because they are used to their own Chabad families on campus. I had a couple guys from Yale tell me they were coming for Friday night dinner with some friends. They showed up with 20 people.” 

Rabbi Shua Rosenstein is Chabad’s representative to Yale University. Yale is one of the 90 universities celebrating spring break this week, but “don’t think we are on vacation here,” laughs Rosenstein. He is hosting a Purim party Monday night in New York City for alumnae and current students. Tuesday morning he will deliver mishloach manot packages to faculty (who don’t, it appears, get to party on the beaches) and read the megillah for them.

Last Saturday night the Rosensteins threw a pre-Purim celebration to get the word out about the holiday and to get the Yalies into the Purim spirit. Between bites of hamantashen and beats from Zach Fuhrer’s band, partygoers moseyed over to a computer set up with a complete listing of Purim parties around the world, and in every location the students would be visiting.

“It is a great relief to be part of this network,” says Rosenstein, “that allows us to send students to any Chabad center in the world and know that they will be warmly welcomed. From the students’ perspective, finding Chabad everywhere gives them a sense of familiarity and belonging wherever they travel. They think it’s cool to be on spring break and still be able to celebrate Jewishly, to do Purim in Cancun.”

Trevor Hines will be skiing down the Rockies in Aspen this week with his family. The Yale junior has been skiing since he could walk, and has spent many spring breaks in Aspen. He has attended Chabad’s local Purim event for years (last year he masqueraded as a Royal Air Force fighter pilot) and says that the scene, “is very happening.” Last year Hines met a fellow Yale student at the Purim fling—for the first time. They plan to meet up again this year.

“Chabad is there to service basic needs, such as a minyan on Shabbat or kosher food,” Hines says. “But through providing these simpler things, they make the holiday much more accessible. If I had had to arrange Purim myself it would have been a big fuss, and not nearly as nice. Not having to worry about the small things is what makes a big difference.” 

Sloshing on sunscreen or donning ski boots, college students know that Chabad representatives in every vacation locale have them covered. Jewishly, at least.   

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