As the Country Mourns, Moscow Celebrated a Subdued Purim

As the country recovers from a terrorist attack in Moscow on Friday night, members of the Marina Roscha shul rejoiced on Purim in a sensitive manner and with support for one another.

Moscow, Motzei Shabbos Parshas Vayikra-Zachor: a heavy shadow of mourning hovers over Russia’s capital city with the arrival of the holiday of Purim. The horrible terrorist attack on Friday night in Moscow’s Krasnogorsk district terrified and shocked the city’s residents, Jews and non-Jews alike. In the central Marina Roscha shul, where Jews from all over Moscow gathered to celebrate Purim, mixed feelings of joy and sadness could be felt.  

“How can we rejoice when people have lost those who are dear to them?” asked an elderly Jew with tears in his eyes. Small children, in colorful costumes played amongst the adults, their laughter mingled with muffled cries. Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar stood in front of the crowd, his face serious. “The holiday of Purim is a time of joy, but we may not forget those who suffered,” said the Rabbi in a soft voice. “The tragedy we experienced reminds us to unite, to strengthen the bond between us, and to support each other.”

The Rabbi’s words resonated among the audience. Jews from all ends of the social spectrum united in shul. Young and old – everyone felt the need to be together, to share their feelings and strengthen the sense of togetherness. “We are stronger when we are united,” said a young Chassid, his eyes sparkling with tears. “Terror will not break us. We will continue to celebrate the holiday in love and unity.”  

The musicians and sound companies understood that they had no reason to come to the main shul, just like in other Jewish communities. In light of the national day of mourning that was declared throughout the country, the Chief Rabbi called on all of Russia’s Jewish communities to cancel all musical events on the holiday of Purim, but at the same time to increase all activities for fulfilling the mitzvot of Purim with as many Jews as possible, enabling them to hear the megillah reading, give mishloach manos and matanos laevyonim to the needy.  

Indeed, despite the mourning, the mitzvos of the holiday were carried out in the very best way. The megillah reading, delivery of fresh meals and the distribution of gifts were done this time with a deep sense of mission. The Jewish community proved its ability to stand together in solidarity under the most difficult circumstances. Many charitable activities took place throughout the city, out of a strong desire to help those in need and to strengthen the feeling of togetherness.  

Many volunteers came to organize delivery of meals and food packages to bereaved families, the sick and the elderly. Sick children in hospitals received gifts and surprise packages which brought smiles to their faces. Inmates in prisons were not left behind, they also received additional rations, words of encouragement, and even a megillah reading and a holiday meal.

The great tragedy experienced by Russia sent shock waves among the entire Jewish community, but also caused it to unite and become stronger. The many acts of kindness that took place during Purim were a moving expression of mutual commitment and ahavas Yisrael. They showed the whole world that even during difficult times, the Jewish community knows how to stand together and support each other.  

Throughout the evening until midnight, and during the following day from morning until sunset, the central Marina Roscha shul was full of people. Jews from all over Moscow flocked to the place to participate in the megillah reading. The voices of the baalei kria could be heard in the air, as thousands listened attentively, immersed in the story of the miracle of Purim, as in those days at this time.

After the megillah reading participants received mishloach manos. Thousands of mishloach manos including a variety of foods, drinks and small gifts, were distributed by shluchim and Chabad yeshiva students. Children and adults alike enjoyed the gifts and a sense of joy and celebration enveloped the many attendees. During Purim day, additional megillah readings were held all over Moscow. Jews gathered in Chabad Houses, schools and community centers to fulfill the mitzvot of the holiday. Additionally, in hundreds of Jewish communities all over Russia, the shluchim visited homes, hospitals and prisons, distributing mishloach manos to every Jew they met. No one was left behind.

In the shadow of the heavy mourning cast on Moscow after the terrorist attack, the joyful events held at the Shaarey Tzedek Jewish Chessed Center stood out. Hundreds of elderly men and women gathered together, where they heard the megillah reading, received mishloach manos, and celebrated with a festive meal. Their faces, many of whom experienced too many tragedies during their life, lit up with joy when they heard the megillah and received their mishloach manos. An atmosphere of joy and unity enveloped the place, and difficult memories were pushed aside for a while.

These events emphasized the importance of Purim’s mitzvos even in difficult times. The megillah reading, distribution of mishloach manos and matanos laevyonim, and the Purim meal, were an expression of ahavas Yisrael, guarantee and hope. They showed everyone that even in the shadow of mourning, the Jewish community knows how to unite, and fulfill its commandments with great hope and faith.

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