When the name Hamen was read from the Book of Esther, known as the Megillah, the Orthodox Jews at the Lubavitch Synagogue in Brooklyn erupted with noise makers and screamed to drown out the name.
Thousands of celebrants of this story of the saving of the Jews from a tyrant hundreds of years ago continued as always, despite fears of coronavirus.
“We have faith in God and he is our shield,” said one Purim celebrant in the shoulder to shoulder congregation who were listening to Rabbi Michael Slavin recite from the sacred scrolls as is done every year.
Throughout the cramped synagogue at 770 Eastern Pkwy. in Crown Heights, children joined their parents in the religious tradition of reciting the history of Purim from the retelling by Queen Esther who’s cunning interference foiled a would-be mass murderer in ancient Persia.
Local Jewish residents were intent on celebrating together despite the coronavirus fears, with rabbis telling their congregations to properly wash and sanitize hands and to stay home if they even think they are sick. Men prayed on the first floor, while women prayed on the second floor balcony.
Children dressed in colorful costumes at their side — sort of a Jewish Halloween — meant to chase away the evil and celebrate life.
As always, Jewish men offered complete strangers the chance to put on Tefillin, two small boxes that contain scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah.
“A double mitzvah for you and me,” said Shmuli Bronstein, a young bearded man with an infectious smile.
Bronstein wasn’t worried about the coronavirus for Purim.
“Of course we get together for Purim, and we can’t be afraid to be together as a Jewish community. This is the source of our strength to be together,” he said. “If we get this virus, may be we just get sick God willing. But if we die, it’s God’s will.”
Some synagogues cancelled Purim festivities and Yeshiva University televised the reading of the Megillah. But for most synagogues, it was the in-person readings that were most important to perform a required mitzvah.
Another young Jewish worshiper sat with his child clad in a clown suit at his side. He read along with the rabbi the Megillah, one of four mitzvahs or good deeds, that Jews are required to do on this day. The others are charity, treat neighbors to food and gifts, and feast with your community.
“We have to be here and listen to the Megillah,” said the worshiper. “I can’t let fear rule who we are and what we need to do. I have faith.”
Among the crowd was John Williams of the 7th Day Adventists, of Flatbush, invited to hear the Megillah at the Lubavitch Center by Rabbi Eli Cohen. Williams said he takes his precautions, but in the end, he says his “faith will protect him.”
“It’s not a time for people to be destroyed by fear,” said Williams adding that he believed a cure was coming soon. “I know a lot of people will suffer from this but we are cautious and we are trying to teach people to do the right things. But if you read Psalms 91, it teaches you that you are protected by the armor of God.”
The psalm reads: “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.”
But as children frolicked in their colorful costumes – smiling and playing in the street with their parents nearby, a more sinister reminder of evil occurred nearby on Kingston Avenue.
A man in a maroon van called out to some Purim celebrants, “Hitler should’ve killed you,” according to a witness who declined to give his name. It was a sober reminder that anti-Semitism and Hamen’s evil lingers to this day.
The 71st Precinct was called.