Central to Purim is reversal — Vashti was killed, Esther became queen; Haman made gallows for Mordechai, Haman was hanged. The list goes on, and considering the turnabout theme, it only makes sense that, after a historically warm Pittsburgh winter, snow fell during the city’s outdoor Purim festival.
Despite chilly temperatures in the 30s and flurries throughout the day, nearly 1,000 people gathered on Sunday, March 20 for the communitywide Purim event.
“It’s good, I’m glad that it’s not raining,” said Zack Block, wearing a winter hat and heavy coat.
Block, director of Repair the World: Pittsburgh, joined representatives from NextGen:Pgh and J’Burgh to head the event.
“What excites me is that the entire Jewish community is coming together and celebrating our shared history in a new way,” said Alec Rieger, founder and executive director of NextGen:Pgh. “This is proof of concept that we can do new things with minimal investment that galvanizes a community.”
Approximately three months ago, representatives from the three organizations collaborated on methods for bringing the community out and together. Following the success of the highly attended Squirrel Hill night markets, the group wanted to devise a Purim-related outdoor communal event.
“When we celebrate outside of our brick-and-mortar institutions, it energizes our community,” said Rieger.
The group reached out to the city’s synagogues, kosher caterers, Jewish organizations and even musicians to create a welcoming and inclusive program.
The goal was to produce a Jewish event in which everybody could participate, said Rieger. “There are new ways to share our history and put aside our differences.”
“We want to show the community that organizations can come together,” said Block.
Based on the attendance, Rieger believed that the event’s objective was met.
“I think we had people who were really excited,” he said.
“It’s great to have the entirety and breadth of our community out celebrating Purim on a snowy day,” said Jeff Finkelstein, CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“My tuches is freezing, but we are moving and shaking,” said Carolyn Slayton, a Shalom Pittsburgh associate, during the celebration.
Along blocked-off Darlington Road near Murray Avenue, participants passed booths from 26 organizations, listened to musicians from five bands and enjoyed food from several kosher caterers.
To use the streets like this “where anyone can come in is a great way to bring everybody together,” said Councilman Corey O’Connor.
“Anytime you close off the street and celebrate is nice,” agreed Paul Kenney, owner of Kidz and Company, a boutique and European children’s clothing store on nearby Forbes Avenue. “I think we should close off the streets and celebrate every holiday [like this], except the sad ones.”
“To celebrate on these streets together is powerful,” said Rieger.
Demonstrating strength was one costume-wearing attendee. Clad in blue cloth, a red cape and giant “S” across his chest, Jia Ji appeared unfazed by the cold.
“I’m wearing this costume because the creators of Superman were Jewish, and most people don’t know that,” said Ji, founder and CEO of MapMedi, a medical globalization company.
Ji said that he learned of the event from different involvements with the Jewish community. Even with the snow, he was happy to celebrate in style.
“You guys support our restaurants, we support your holidays,” said Ji.
Making his way down Darlington Road was Rabbi Seth Adelson of Congregation Beth Shalom. Adelson similarly applauded the event.
“I like that it brings people outdoors to see each other,” he said.
O’Connor agreed. “It’s great that it brings everybody together for the Jewish holiday of Purim.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.