Purim in the Age of Coronavirus


Most years on Purim, many people wear masks to shul.

This year, many more did.

Protective health masks.

As a precaution against contracting the communicable disease, especially in crowded areas, many adults and children who attended synagogue services, Purimshpiels and other events on the holiday that began Monday night — Tuesday night in Jerusalem and a few other Israeli cities — donned masks to prevent a sharing of germs.

Because several synagogues were closed on Purim, and because many congregants either were quarantined or avoided going to shul to reduce the odds of catching coronavirus, many congregations livestreamed their Megillah readings, and altruistic volunteers read the Scroll of Esther in the homes of homebound individuals. Other congregations sent their members videos and recordings of Purim services and celebrations.

And some congregations held multiple Megillah readings, to reduce the number of people at a single service.

A photo spread on Facebook today of a chasidic man standing on an Israeli street outside of an apartment building, chanting the Megillah through someone’s window. Some 80,000 people are quarantined in Israel.

In Israel, Yad Sarah, the country’s largest volunteer-led social services agency, arranged a Coronavirus Hotline for people in quarantine to call in order to have medical equipment delivered to his or her home. The organization’s teams will wear protective gear, and deposit the supplies outside of recipients’ homes.

The Westchester branch of the Chabad-Lubavitch recruited 45 student volunteers in New Rochelle, epicenter of the disease’s occurrence in this country, to read the Megillah at the homes of members of the Jewish community, especially members of Young Israel of New Rochelle.

In the spirit of the disease-dominated times, coronavirus seemed to be a popular theme of Purim costumes this year, many children dressed as doctors or rescue workers, or donning surgical gloves, robes and masks.

Manhattan’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah said it would not cancel its Megillah reading or 1980s-themed party. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum said the congregation, which serves the city’s LGBTQ community, “went through the AIDS crisis — we know what it is to live with a plague.”

At Town & Village Synagogue in Manhattan, Rabbi Larry Sebert instructed  congregants to not cover their eyes with their hands during the Shema prayer, a standard practice, to avoid transmitting pathogens.