Purim Jewish celebration in New York City calls for ‘prayer and Purell’

Orthodox Jewish man in costume in Borough Park. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Despite several New York City synagogues cancelling Purim celebrations for Tuesday because of the coronavirus, most orthodox communities will still be out on the streets in costume – but ‘prayer and Purell’ are urged by their rabbis.

Several Purim carnivals that were to be held Sunday through Tuesday night have been cancelled after Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency to increase funding to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. However, it is expected that large gatherings will still occur in Borough Park, Crown Heights and Williamsburg, where large numbers of orthodox Jews live and celebrate the festive occasion of Purim, a holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, a high official of the Persian empire who was planning to kill the Jews as recounted in the Book of Esther, and read in the scrolls of the Migillah.

Orthodox Jewish residents in costume in Borough Park. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Temple Emanu-El on the Upper East Side was taking no chances and have cancelled their Purim carnival. On the temple’s web page, it said  “With this morning’s press conference, the Mayor’s Office has updated the COVID-19 page — identifying individuals who are most at risk for serious illness and offering additional steps for individuals and employees to limit social contact.

With this update, Temple Emanu-El is planning accordingly and will update our community when we have additional news.

“There is currently no known exposure to our congregants or facilities. The nature of the carnival, where physical contact is not limited, presents an unnecessary risk for our community,” the synagogue announced.

B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side also nixed its Sunday carnival.

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said most synagogues will not be cancelling the readings of the Migillah for Purim. However, he said there is no religious reason to hold Purim festivities. He said some synagogues are doing live streaming of the readings of the Migillah scrolls, including the Yeshiva University, to avoid unnecessary contact during the coronavirus scare. Some people are opting to hold “more private Purim festivities.”

“When we do live celebrations, we are using disinfectant to sanitize areas that people touch,” Rabbi Potasnik said. “One congregation is handing out gloves and are urged to don’t shake hands. Precautionary measures are important especially for people who have health issues — they should not be going to settings where they are in the greatest risk in public setting — so we urge people to self remove themselves – self quarantine.”

However, those who are going to public readings of the Migillah, Potasnik urged , “do it sensibly, think of prayer and Purell go hand in hand.” 

“People are nervous and worry so err on side of caution,” Potasnik said. “If  you are feeling any weakness, coughing or any other symptoms, stay home and certainly don’t give to anyone else.”

He also urge those caring for someone, “if you get sick think of what it does for person who needs your presence – use extreme cautious.”

He also urged  “social spacing,” staying 5-6 feet apart or more to avoid potentially spreading the virus.

“If you go to services, make sure you are well and don’t minimize this,” Potasnik said. “Wash hands before going anywhere, congregations are doing a lot of disinfecting, and even funeral chapels are now staggering funerals services so they can clean in between.”

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik advises sanctuaries to follow health department guidelines. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Motti Seligson, director of communications at Chabad.org said they are urging all congregations to follow the Health Department guidelines on disinfecting and cleaning surfaces and to always wash and sanitize hands.

“What we are doing, and the Chabad rabbis I’ve spoken to say they are are ensuring Purim celebrations follow guidelines of health officials because the health of everyone is of paramount concern,” Seligson said.  “We want everyone to have joyous and healthy Purim, but panic doesn’t help anyone.”

Orthodox Jews pray in close quarters in Lubavitch synagogue on Eastern Parkway. Rabbis urge sanitary precautions and to “stay home” if feeling ill (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Seligson said Chabad is about  “giving people a sense of belonging and hope,” especially people isolated, many who need quarantine. Seligson also said they are especially concerned about people in here and in Israel where Chabad is going door to door reading Migillah outside homes,

“Tonight and tomorrow, we have 120 readings scheduled so at least we have good weather for it,” Seligson said.  “Regardless of what others doing, will will serve who ever needs our help and do it in a safe way.”

And like everyone else, Seligson said they encourage people to wash hands, following recommendations, but “if someone is ill they shouldn’t join in the public gatherings.”