For Elaine Gerstenfeld, Purim is a tale of Jewish unity.
In the biblical story, Queen Esther gathered the Jews to unite against Haman, a royal official on a mission to kill the Jews of Persia.
“When he describes the Jews, he describes them as divided and dispersed,” explained Gerstenfeld, who is organizing the second annual Purim Unity Extravaganza at the Greenspring Shopping Center’s Atrium on Sunday, March 16 at 1 p.m. “Unity seemed to be the essence of the story in terms of our being saved from this.”
The Jews looked internally when an external threat faced them back then, something Gerstenfeld feels resonates even today with Iran, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment threatening the Jewish people.
“If you’re Jewish, be there,” she said of her event. “We should stand together and say, ‘We are one people.’”
The event features a short Purim carnival with music, a balloon artist, temporary face tattoos and prizes for the best disguises. From 1:45 p.m. until 3 p.m., participants will split up into smaller groups to deliver shelach manot, traditional baskets of food, to elderly members of the Jewish community in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Jewish Volunteer Connection, which collaborated on the event last year, determines which facilities the smaller groups will visit. The organization is always looking to help senior facilities, said executive director Ashley Pressman.
“Isolation is a big issue,” she explained. “I think people just love to know that somebody cares, getting a visitor and something sweet to eat.”
Leslie Goldberg, who is new to the event this year, is helping get the word out to the Reform and Conservative communities and soliciteddonations for the shelach manot. Donations came from Safeway, Mars, Giant, Fresh Market, Wegmans, Miller’s Delicatessen, The Knish Shop and Gourmet Again. Volunteers from Etz Chaim’s WOW! program are packing the baskets, and Accents and Cocoaccinos donated the space for the event.
Goldberg said she didn’t have to push the donors to get involved.
“It was not a twist [of the] arm,” she remarked. “They were definitely on board.”
Adriana Steinberg, a friend of Gerstenfeld’s, saw the theme of unity among last year’s attendees.
“I really love the fact that we had different people in the community with different backgrounds and interests and even ways of living all together bounded by this desire to celebrate Purim and the mitzvah of delivering shelach manot,” she said.
Her three children, 5, 4 and 1, helped give out the shelach manot last year and loved the experience.
“They loved singing; they had also drawn some pictures and given them out,” recalled Steinberg. “They loved visiting ‘bubbies’ and ‘zaydies,’ as they like to call them.”
For Gerstenfeld, who lives and breathes this event, it’s about knocking “down the walls that divide us.”
“I really want to inspire us to look beyond our differences and to realize whoever the person is, everyone has a special mission,” she said. “We can learn from each other.”