While the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Rabbi Berl Lazar was fulfilling his duty at the Kremlin last Thursday, listening to the State of the Nation speech made by President Vladimir Putin, Purim was happening in the FSU countries, from Latvia to Azerbaijan and everywhere in between, including, of course, the Russian capital.
Dozens of rabbis and hundreds of students from Moscow’s Jewish schools were running around to medical centers, prisons, orphanages, visiting private homes or any other place where they could help more Jews partake in the joy of the holiday.
There were Scroll of Esther readings around the clock on both Purim night and Purim day at the central Moscow synagogue. Klezmer bands and Chasidic singers kept the crowds dancing for hours both at night and during the day.
There were also readings in about forty additional Jewish centers throughout Moscow, accompanied by all the holiday customs.
At the Shaarey Tzedek Chesed Center in one of Moscow’s neighborhoods, hundreds of the elderly people participated in a special concert, received and gave customary holiday gifts and partook in a royal feast free of charge.
Large food packages were distributed to hundreds of families, with charity funds distributing chicken, meat, fish, and wine to many needy families on the same day.
At the same time, thousands of Jews in other FSU Jewish communities also enjoyed Purim festivities.
Despite the raging snowstorm outside, the Jewish community in Sumy Ukraine warmed themselves with a festive Purim meal prepared by city rabbi, Rabbi Levitansky and his family, themed after the gathering of Jews in Jerusalem. Flags from every country greeted the guests as they arrived in the synagogue building.
The hall was decorated as Jerusalem, while every table was set as a different country with a costume to match, thus ensuring that every participant felt part of the Purim spirit.
The same was happening in many other communities across Ukraine that were heavily snowed in that Thursday. “Despite the snowstorms and frigid cold weather thousands of people filled the Kharkov City Circus to hear the Scroll of Esther and enjoy a full program in true Jewish Purim spirit,” said Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, the rabbi of Kharkov.
In many of the communities, the festivities were accompanied by performances of the Or Avner kindergarten groups, art shows, games, competitions, comedy skits and anything else to bring in the fun. City and regional officials attended, surprised and impressed by the warm and vibrant community spirit at the celebrations.