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JCC celebrates Purim with Covid precautions

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In normal years, Purim is celebrated with large family gatherings at which relatives exchange Purim baskets, wear costumes and share a meal. Purim, or the Festival of Lots, commemorates the survival of the Jews who, in the fifth century, were marked for death by their Persian rulers.

With the threat of the coronavirus still looming this year, it was more difficult for people to enjoy the company of their loved ones, especially seniors, during the celebration Feb. 25 and 26. Oceanside’s Barry and Florence Friedberg Jewish Community Center marked the occasion by coordinating food basket deliveries to seniors in the communities the JCC serves.

Executive Director Roni Kleinman said that celebrating Purim safely was an important part of the center’s mission, so volunteers delivered the baskets. The proceeds of this year’s sales in the JCC’s four Early Childhood Centers have been directed to projects like the basket deliveries.

“So instead of making it a fundraiser for Friedberg, we made it a fundraiser for the community,” Kleinman said.

The JCC had a much smaller staff putting together the baskets this year in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Staff members in gloves and masks filled 400 baskets with everything from grape juice to hamantaschen pastries, for seniors as well as the Early Childhood Centers. “It was an adventure,” Kleinman said.

Gloria Lebeaux, the center’s director of social work services, said that 55 baskets filled with food and toys were delivered to about 100 senior members of the community, many of whom have had to take extra precautions in the pandemic. Lebeaux said she had received heartfelt emails from the recipients, who were grateful to have traditional holiday snacks when in many cases they didn’t feel safe going out and risking their health to get them.

The JCC partnered with the Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls in Hewlett Bay Park, whose students helped deliver the baskets.

“They’re seeing the next generation, the future of Judaism, still continuing the legacy and still just seeing that the religion is being carried on,” said Alison Fixler, the director of the Early Childhood Center at the JCC’s Lynbrook branch. “For the members of the community who have witnessed atrocities done on the Jewish people throughout their lives, it means something to see the next generation continue to proudly continue traditions.”

Fixler made deliveries in Long Beach on Feb. 25, and said it was an extraordinarily positive experience for both the volunteers and the recipients. She said she was met with masked smiles and joyful tears by many of the people she visited. Recipients stood in their doorways, socially distanced from the volunteers, and savored their conversations. “I don’t know what they craved more, the human interaction or the treats,” Fixler said. “Probably both equally.”

For the JCC, the continuity of Jewish tradition is extremely important, so having this event serve as something of an intergenerational connection effort was encouraging for the seniors in the community. Judging by her conversations with the recipients, Fixler said it they much appreciated that young people would take a day to help and socialize with strangers for whom the interaction meant so much.