When was the last time Pittsburgh’s Jewish community closed a street in the heart of Squirrel Hill and threw a party? No politics, no parade, just a good old-fashioned party. Multiple bands, performers, kosher chefs, service projects and fun programs for the entire family. Almost every Jewish organization and institution in the region invited to plan and celebrate together. This is Purim Pittsburgh 2016.
We all love this city and proudly make the case to the world that Squirrel Hill is a national Jewish treasure. As we near our centennial in this magical neighborhood, let’s acknowledge how fortunate we are to have bucked the trend that has left other urban Jewish communities disadvantaged, as the pull of the suburbs became irresistible. Not only are we still here, but we are thriving; Squirrel Hill remains home to an incredibly diverse and friendly Jewish community, and we are still together, in good times and bad, after all these years.
Since we have little control over life’s many challenges and struggles, and we’ve all comforted each other so many times before, we started to think, “The people need another excuse to smile and celebrate. Why not give them that opportunity by putting together a big open-street Purim party?”
The Jewish Community Center has been hosting its Purim extravaganza since before we were born, and it continues to bring great joy to the community. So we thought, “Why not partner with the JCC and the community to party for another four hours on the same Squirrel Hill streets that Jews have called home for a century?” And that’s exactly what we did. We partnered with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the JCC, the Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Chabad, Hillel Jewish University Center, the Community Day School, the Hillel Academy, Hebrew Free Loan, Repair the World, J’Burgh, NextGen:Pgh and many additional Jewish organizations and institutions to bring you Purim Pittsburgh.
We’ll strike up the band directly outside the JCC’s door on Darlington at 4 p.m., and we’ll continue the festivities until 8 p.m. We’ll dance, grill, listen to Purim shpiels, pack mishloach manot to donate to those in need, catch up with friends, learn and help others. The kids will have a costume parade and contest, and J’Burgh, Shalom Pittsburgh, and Moishe House will lead a bar crawl. By the time we start to clean up, Squirrel Hill will have been home to eight hours of communitywide Purim festivities. What better way to prepare for and acknowledge our people’s triumph over evil and adversity — challenges that are far more relevant today than we would have hoped when Esther became queen.
Our goal for Purim Pittsburgh is that it be imbued with the spirit of Am Yisrael Chai. Together, we are creating this event in the hope that we can gather as a whole community and in new ways: right and left; Orthodox and secular; young and old — reclaiming our historic space and witnessing the collective strength of our communal infrastructure while also recommitting our efforts to grow and support it. Together, on the day before the official start of spring, let’s celebrate our people’s historic rescue and renewal while ushering in a new age of hyper-creative and collaborative programming.
Sure the weather may not cooperate at the end of March, but so what? Similar to the strength and joy embodied by the Jewish people, Purim Pittsburgh is happening rain or shine. A little chill or precipitation wasn’t enough to stop Mordecai and Esther, and it surely won’t be enough to stop our amazing community.
See you Sunday, March 20 at 4 p.m. at Darlington and Murray!
Alec Rieger is founder and executive director of NextGen:Pgh; Zack Block is director of Repair the World; and Ronna Peacock Pratt is director of J’Burgh. For information on Purim Pittsburgh, visit