Purim at Cambridge Takes An Orwellian Turn

by Rivka Chaya Berman - CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND

March 29, 2005

Six-foot tall roosters, a charming butterfly and dancing cows lumbered through Chabad of Cambridge’s backyard barnyard for their Animal Farm Purim celebration. Under plastic bats and stuffed owls dangling from the eaves, Chabad’s representatives in Cambridge Rabbi Reuven and Rochel Leigh served farm fresh pies and pastries to get their crowd of 60 community members in the Purim spirit with an Orwellian twist.

Signs reading “All poor are created equal, but students are more equal than others,” hung near the collection plates where Cantabridgians fulfilled Purim’s special mitzvah of contributing to charity. The references to Orwell’s Animal Farm, a metaphor about communism’s foibles, were subtle but appreciated by the wonky Cambridge crowd. One Cambridge University student was so enamored of the theme, he volunteered to dress up as Karl Marx.

Cambridge’s high turn out was echoed throughout the United Kindgom where Chabad-Lubavitch centers banded together to publicize their creative Purim programs. “In the UK, the reputation of Lubavitch is well established, but we want people to know the scale of our activities,” said Rabbi Leigh, who served as national coordinator for Chabad’s Purim UK publicity. “People think we are the place to go to when they need a mezuzah or need a place for Shabbat. We want everyone to know that Lubavitch has exciting happenings all year through.”

Ads in local Jewish papers proclaimed Chabad’s buffet of fun Purim events from Anlaby to Wimbledon through a special PurimUK.com website. The site provided town-by-town event searches, times, and enticing tidbits about program plans.

In Brighton, an overflow crowd of 200 swamped Chabad’s Purim in the Shtetl. Liverpudlians slurped pasta at an Italian Purim banquet. Oxford’s Purim night festivities did not wrap until 1 a.m., and the community got up the next day for an Israeli buffet with pony rides and glassmaking for the kids. Over in Edgware, more than 1,200 mishloach manot, Purim food gifts, were distributed. Up in Glasgow, Scotland, Chabad welcomed more than 200 people. Even Chabad of Belfast, Ireland, managed to attract 70 people –a triumph given that jewishireland.com puts Ireland’s total Jewish population at 1,700.

“Purim is not like Passover, when it’s easy to fill up your programs,” said Rabbi Leigh. “Most people don’t know about Purim, and still huge numbers of people turned up. Without Lubavitch, these thousands of people would not have celebrated Purim.”

Both the calendar and the weather cooperated on Purim in the UK. The Friday Purim date coincided with an English bank holiday, and the weather was warm enough for Her Majesty’s subjects to shed their heavy winter coats. Good weather helped Chabad of South Manchester turn its Thames River Purim Cruise into a fabulous experience. “The dancing, music and joy made the cruise feel like a wedding,” said Chabad of South Manchester’s Rabbi Peretz Chein.

The momentum of Purim’s record numbers will be used to usher in Chabad of UK’s pre-Passover publicity blitz. A website, passoveruk.com, is in the works as are newspaper ads for the local Jewish and general press. Soon more Jews of the British Isles than ever will find out “There is a place for YOU at our Seder Table!”

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