Celebration and resilience in the month of joy: Purim at Grinnell


Owen Barbato

From left: Zoe Nechin `25, Theo Deitz-Green `23, Rabbi Sarah Brammer-Shlay, and Livia Stein Freitas `25 perform a spiel.

Claire Giannosa, Staff Writer

Chaverim, Grinnell College’s Jewish student association, hosted their first Purim party last Monday, March 6, from 6-9 p.m. in the Harris Center. Purim is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the survival of the Jews in Persia from the evil plot of Haman, an advisor to the Persian king. The holiday began Monday evening and lasted until Tuesday evening, March 7.

The celebration started with the tradition of reading from the Megillah, or the Book of Esther, which tells of the story of Queen Esther, who helped save the Jews from Haman. Some students read from the scroll in Hebrew on stage, and audience members would boo and make noise with groggers (noisemakers) when they read Haman’s name.

Rabbi Sarah Brammer-Shlay said that the Book of Esther is “a book where I think we learn a lot about power and responsibility and what it means to fight for justice and freedom — to be able to find joy and silliness in our work, and to know that that’s actually a part of our resilience.”

As an associate chaplain and rabbi at the Center for Religion, Spirituality and Social Justice, Brammer-Shlay worked with Chaverim by “supporting the students in dreaming up what they wanted this [the Purim party] to be,” she said. She emphasized the importance of a holiday like Purim, which “is an opportunity to lean into that silliness and joy, which can be hard sometimes, as students, when you have a lot going on.”

Following the reading, Jewish students performed a spiel, or skit, retelling the story of the Book of Esther. E.J. Schwartz `23, who wrote the spiel, said, “even though it was short and goofy, I like to think that I did have motifs of family running throughout. To me, that is a lot of what religion is — part of my connection to being Jewish is comedy.”

A key aspect of Purim is Jewish resilience and celebration of survival. “You might have cut us, you might have hurt us, you might have done whatever, but we’re still alive,” Schwartz said.

After the spiel, the event continued with games, snacks, costumes, cotton candy and inflatables. Attendees could also donate money to Grinnell Community Meal, an organization that serves meals to the community, as they hope to start up again in April. Among the food offerings was Hamantaschen, which Schwartz explained to be a triangular shaped cookie often filled with apricot, poppyseed and chocolate fillings, representing the hat and ears of Haman.

Purim is celebrated during the Jewish month of Adar, a month that signifies joy. “We’re told that as soon as the month of Adar begins, our joy increases,” Brammer-Shlay said.

Some students who celebrated Purim said that they found joy within the traditions of the holiday. Marisa Goffman `24, president of Chaverim, said her favorite tradition was baking Hamantaschen. “I think it’s a really fun community event to experiment with the different fillings and bond over the food.” She also liked dressing up in costume. “It’s a reminder to not take yourself too seriously, and at this school, that’s pretty important.”

I really believe it’s important to have opportunities for Jewish students to live in Jewish time

— Rabbi Sarah Brammer-Shlay

As president, Goffman said she is “a very logistical person,” helping to plan and organize events. “I’m the person people come to if they have an idea that they want to see become reality, and I’m like, ‘let’s do it. Let’s go.’”

For the first Purim celebration at Grinnell, Goffman said the members of Chaverim “dreamt big and envisioned what they wanted the party to look like. And then the Rabbi and I kind of helped see that we could actually make a reality.” Even though it was the first one at Grinnell, Goffman said it was “one of hopefully many.”

“I definitely think there’s some things that we learned when we go to plan it for next year,” Goffman said. “I think attendance was really good. I think everyone had a lot of fun. I’m excited to see how it grows within the next 5 to 10 years.”

“I really believe it’s important to have opportunities for Jewish students to live in Jewish time,” Brammer-Shlay said about the importance of having a Purim celebration at Grinnell. “I think it’s a really fun holiday to bring non-Jewish students into as well.”

“I heard from a lot of Jewish students, and non-Jewish students, that having a Purim celebration at Grinnell was really awesome,” Goffman said. “[It] felt really meaningful to them to have a Jewish event at that scale.”

Overall, Purim is a holiday about celebration and finding joy in life. According to Goffman, “Purim is a really good time to recognize that the Jews didn’t die, take a break from the seriousness of winter, raise up your joy and have a really good, fun time with your community.”