Upbeat music and the smells of southern comfort food alerted the senses on Saturday night in the atrium of the D.J. Lombardo Student Center at John Carroll University. The occasion was the first Purim Gras celebration at Carroll. Purim Gras is a celebration of the fusion of the Jewish holiday of Purim and Mardi Gras. The event was coordinated by JCU Hillel and Late Night at Carroll.
Those who attended Purim Gras were able to listen to Asher Barkin’s LYD Orchestra, have a caricature drawn by Scott Hall and enjoy different foods such as Issi’s Pizza as well as pita bread with hummus. Junior David Markovich, the founder of Hillel at JCU, said, “Purim Gras is being sponsored by Hillel at John Carroll University, an organization helping to better inform students about Jewish traditions and customs. Ever since I founded Hillel at John Carroll University in 2011, Jewish culture on campus has been very well represented, recognized and celebrated by many students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and has made an important contribution to the growing movement to promote and embrace diversity on campus.”
Mardi-Gras, the celebration before Lent, was just four days before Purim-Gras. This offered a wonderful opportunity for John Carroll students to learn more about both celebrations. Markovich said, “Since both Purim and Mardi Gras fall in the month of February and are similar, upbeat and festive, we thought it would be fun to combine the two holidays into one event. Along with this, Purim is a Jewish holiday that celebrates a significant and monumental event or period in Jewish history.” It also served as a way for non-Jewish students to learn more about the Jewish holiday of Purim.
Markovich gave a brief description of the origins of the Jewish holiday. “Around 2,000 years ago, when Israel was under Persian control, King Achashverosh’s prime minister, Hamam, tried to exterminate all of the Jewish people,” he said. “Through a series of miraculous ‘coincidences,’ the Jewish people were saved through the efforts of the Jewish queen, Esther, and her cousin Mordechai. We celebrate the salvation each year with merriment and the reading of the Megillah. The Megillah is a scroll inscribed with the story of Esther and is read twice on Purim: once at night and once in the morning.”
Another key point to the celebration of Purim is the idea that those in attendance hide their identities behind masks. Markovich explained, “God’s name is not mentioned in the Megillah because the miracles leading to the salvation seem coincidental. God was ‘hiding,’ as it were, behind a mask of nature. Commemorating this, we too hide our identities behind masks.”
According to their Facebook page, Hillel hopes to continue their efforts to support Jewish students while giving a better understanding of Jewish culture to non-Jewish people at John Carroll and in the community. Markovich said, “I intend to continue to provide students with fun and educational opportunities to learn more about Jewish culture and to become more immersed in the local Jewish community.” Events such as Purim Gras further this mission while providing a fun atmosphere for everyone.