Carnival, candy…and a camel: How British Jews celebrated Purim

Across the community, there were costumes and spiels aplenty


Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue Wonka-themed family extravaganza

Synagogues, cheders and local communities seemed to put their worries aside for a day as they celebrated Purim at the weekend.

Hundreds of people hit the streets of north-west London, enjoying exchanging mishloach manot (traditional Purim gifts), dancing and singing.

It was also the day that a camel came to town. A Hendon resident reportedly hired the camel for the festival, along with a sound system and big screen in the front garden. According to our source: “There were loads of people walking past and driving around party-hopping, and I definitely overheard conversations along the lines of: ‘The host has really pulled out all the stops this year.’” 

Jewish schools enjoyed a uniform-free day as pupils dressed up in traditional – and non-traditional – Purim fancy dress and children and adults alike heard the Megillah being chanted at synagogues and cheders across the country.

JFS students had an exciting day planned by JiEP (informal education department) celebrating Purim at school, where each year group enjoyed a funfair filled with inflatables and rides, had a Purim Seudah, participated in games run by Tribe, Shinshinim and FZY, and learned about the meaning behind Purim.

Purim is one of the most hotly anticipated festivals at JFS and the school had a record high attendance on the day.

Over £8,000 was raised for charity through student entry tickets, with the grand prizes of an iPad and portable speaker, as well as other donations from local kosher restaurants and communal businesses. The student-produced Purim schpiel, available to view on YouTube, has already received 5.1 thousand views online.

A Purim celebration took place at the Kisharon Wohl Campus, Kisharon Noé School A Loftus Learning Centre for students at the school and other people supported by the charity.

Festivities continued with a party at Maccabi House, where members of Kisharon Langdon were treated to a magical performance by a magician.

In the run-up to Purim, members of Kisharon Langdon’s social enterprise team had organised sales of mishloach manot sets and hamentaschen-making kits to raise funds for the charity.

Kisharon Tuffkid nursery also celebrated Purim, festival, making hamantashen and groggers (shakers) and enjoying a Purim party.

At Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, there was an interactive Megillah reading for over 450 children and their parents, which featured live actors and video link-ups, which created an immersive experience for the audience. 

Led by the community rabbi and rebbetzin, the show was staged by Little Boo Stories, specialists in bringing stories to life through imagination and play. 

Becky Merry of Little Boo Stories said it was the first time they had performed a Megillah. “We've never been involved in anything like this before, but seeing how forward-thinking the shul was, it was a project we wanted to be part of.”

Rabbi Herszaft called it “a Purim to remember” and member Adam Gordon said: “It was amazing to have experienced an interactive Megillah reading. I wish I had that as a kid.”

There were women’s Megillah readings aplenty, including at Borehamwood and Elstree, Golders Green, Mill Hill and South Hampstead Synagogues.

At South Hampstead Synagogue, the annual Purim spiel was centred on a replacement host for James Corden’s Late, Late Show, which included a (pre-recorded) appearance from the man himself.

Congregants willingly took up the theme of America, dressing up as cheerleaders, Pink Ladies and (even) Trump supporters.

There was something for everyone this Purim at Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue – including a sing and sensory baby class, Wonka-themed family extravaganza, Choir of Ha-Man pub party, chocolate vodka cook-along and a chance to use a brand new Megillah. The celebrations were dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Neil Kraft, who died of Covid in March 2020.

Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue had a children’s party, storytelling and spiel, as well as an adult fancy dress competition and the traditional reading of the Megillah in six different languages – Hebrew, Ladino, Spanish, German, French and Chinese –  one chapter each.

More than 150 people attended the Purim Spiel at East London and Essex Liberal Synagogue, which this year transported Esther to the 1990s. The play was followed by a fancy dress parade for all ages, compered by Rabbi Richard Jacobi.

A Purim Spectacular at Kingston Liberal Synagogue saw the shul hall full of families re-enacting the story and looking at how to use its values to support good causes today, including raising money for Jewish Women’s Aid and homelessness charity Spear.

Kol Chai Reform Synagogue had a double Purim celebration. On Erev Purim, there was a comedy and drag night, with David Lewis compering and drag queen Majik “with a K”. On Purim morning, the congregation baked hamantaschen, packed mishloach manot and watched the community’s teenagers perform the Purim Spiel, The Loudest Party.

At The Liberal Synagogue Elstree, the community dressed up, ate, played and danced. Highlights were an Israeli dancing session and a discussion about the women in the Megillah, including raising money for Jewish Women’s Aid.

Nottingham Liberal Synagogue’s spiel was Mordechood and the Merry Menschen with characters including Maid Esther, The Sheriff of NottingHaman, Bubbe Vashti and Rabbi Tuck.

Over 500 young people joined Aish UK for a series of  events. Rabbi Naftali Schiff, Chief Executive of Aish UK, emphasised the significance of Purim as a time for connection and celebration within the Jewish community. He stated: “At Purim and also at Pesach, the Jewish people throughout history faced crisis, and the Aish response to crisis is that which is learnt from our ancestors which is to focus on the positive, be aware of your enemies and face them but at the same time internally combat this with positivity a purposeful reason to connect.

"Although this year it may be difficult to celebrate festivals like Purim, we need to do what Jews have done since time immemorial and turn negativity into positivity.”

To begin the Purim celebrations, 60 London based school students gathered for a bingo night.  Aish’s Campus department in London hosted a boat party on the River Thames, which saw 145 campus students enjoying a nautical-themed evening filled with challenges and activities.

Over 90 young professionals gathered for a pre-Purim Friday night dinner at the Aish Centre on Brent Street. On Purim morning, campus students joined the campus team for a bottomless Purim seuda brunch and Megillah reading by Rabbi Goldwater.

Aish UK also extended its celebrations to Manchester, where 90 people came together for a weekend of Purim festivities. Events included a Megillah reading and dinner party for Manchester 6th Formers, as well as an Aish party for young professionals hosted by Rabbi Zvi and Miriam Gefen. Purim day culminated in a lunch and Megillah reading for campus students.

Aish UK hosted a Purim seuda for 90 young professionals at the home of Rabbi Cookie and Shana Cohen, co-hosted by Aish families Cohen, Abadi, Simon, Zneimer, and Klein. The event featured Rabbi Rafi Stemmer reading the Megillah and magician Yossi Glass performing mesmerising mentalist tricks, for a really wonderful evening.

In Temple Fortune, the Jewish Family Centre organised a variety of activities including Purim arts and crafts, hamantaschen baking, face painting, and stay-and-play sessions for families to participate in and enjoy.

The centre serves as a hub for community engagement,

a wide array of programmes, services and events catering to the diverse needs and interests of families within the Jewish community.


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