Purim, 2009 The New York Times

A Celebration on Wheels in Observance of Purim

Rabbis Shmuel Kravitsky, standing at left, and Saadya Notik aboard the Purim party bus.


Published: March 10, 2009

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. — “Are you ready to get on the Purim party bus?” Rabbi Saadya Notik screamed Tuesday to a group of women, many in costume, standing on a sidewalk at Mount Holyoke College.

The women rushed to the charter bus, a virtual nightclub on wheels, where neon lights pulsed, smoke billowed from underneath the seats and music blared.

“Party people, can I get some noise?” Rabbi Notik, 25, shouted as the women whooped and threw their hands in the air. “This party’s got wheels.”

                                             Jodi Hilton for The New York Times

Welcome aboard the Purim party bus, a mobile festival conceived by rabbis of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement as a way for students at the Five Colleges — Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst — to celebrate Purim. It is a holiday observed with fanciful costumes, plenty of food and copious drink (although the party bus served only iced tea and water, because many students are under 21).

Purim celebrates a story in the biblical Book of Esther, also known as the Megillah, in which Queen Esther saves the Jewish people from a plot to destroy them hatched by Haman, an adviser to the king.

Tuvia Helfen, a bus organizer, explained to students: “We were supposed to be annihilated. Instead we came out on top, and we celebrate with a party bus.” Mr. Helfen was dressed as Gene Simmons, the bassist from the band Kiss, complete with high-heeled black boots.

“It’s awesome. It’s so much more fun than I expected,” said Kira Disen, 20, a student from Smith who danced on the bus.

Rabbi Shmuel Kravitsky of Chabad of the Four Colleges, an affiliate of the Orthodox Jewish Chabad-Lubavitch movement at all of the colleges but UMass, said the bus was a way to spread the story of Purim, as well as fun and good cheer on the campuses.

“The point is we’re trying to inspire people,” Rabbi Kravitsky said. “If we inspire one person today, it was worth it.”

Rabbi Kravitsky was dressed in a white suit, black wig and gold chains. “I’m a cross between Tony Montana and John Travolta,” he said, referring to the lead character in the gangster movie “Scarface” and the actor from “Saturday Night Fever.”

The men passed out small gift bags of food, a Purim custom, to anyone who came within walking distance of the bus. The back of the bus was filled with chips, hummus and guacamole.

“Go out, meet, greet, say, ‘Happy Purim,’ ” Rabbi Kravitsky said to the Chabad-Lubavitch men who helped run the bus. “If they’re black, white, Jewish, Muslim, whoever is out there, say ‘Happy Purim.’ ”

The bus spent about an hour at each of the five colleges, with about 10 minutes dedicated to the reading of the Book of Esther in Hebrew. Many students were happy they could hear the reading without having to venture off campus or miss class.

“It’s wonderful that Purim is coming to us,” said Sarah Shapiro, 20, a Mount Holyoke student.

The rest of the time was spent recruiting students on the bus, where revelers ate and danced, mostly to Matisyahu, an Orthodox Jewish reggae and hip-hop musician, as lights pulsed.

“Where is the smoke coming from? This is so funny,” said Clara Kahn, 19, a Mount Holyoke student who wore a yellow goatee and dressed as Mugatu, a character from the movie “Zoolander.”

One student at the University of Massachusetts said he was not Jewish and tried to walk away from the bus. “There’s free food,” Rabbi Kravitsky said. The student hopped aboard.

And as often happens with epic parties, the police showed up. Officer Juan Ramos of the Mount Holyoke Department of Public Safety approached the bus in a cruiser, lights flashing. He ended up taking photos with Rabbi Kravitsky and leaving with food.



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