Purim Volunteering

Posted on March 26, 2019

One of the coolest parts about Purim in Jerusalem is seeing people in costumes around town. What I didn’t expect was to be that person at which other people shoot their short, amused glances. I remember giggling nervously when I saw Athena wearing earbuds and holding a Rav Kav (magnetic bus pass card) reflected back at me from the bus window. But as soon as I got to Beit Melabev, a Jerusalem based Memory Club/Day Center for seniors, the furtive glances turned into exclamations of delight as I entered the Moadon (club) at Melabev.

I have been volunteering at Melabev with seniors with mid-stage dementia. As a JTS rabbinical student, I not only help with the club members’ activities and meals, but I also lead a weekly discussion (in Hebrew!) on a section from Pirke Avot, a book in the mishna that contains rabbinic wisdom.

We set spent the whole day celebrating Purim. After greeting all of the club members and explaining my costume, I spent a half hour organizing a table of hats and plastic leis and bright scarves, convincing proud Israeli men to don silly costumes, and sing along to our Purim playlist. Then, we settled in to read the megillah.  Club members who are able got the opportunity to read, and I chanted a couple chapters. My supervisor adapted and summarized the text to ensure it was appropriate for our audience. Throughout the reading, I used the remaining costume supplies to dramatically portray the story along with another volunteer: we pantomimed Esther’s fast, Mordechai’s royal ride around Shushan, and Haman’s plea for mercy after his plot is revealed. We danced, played instruments, sang Purim songs from memory. We passed out snack and hamantaschen.  One member’s wife even sent sugar-free versions of the pastry for revelers with dietary restrictions. Another member burst into song every chance he could, leading the group in a mutinous and exuberant rendition of the famous verse “l’yehudim hytah ora v’simcha v’sason v’yikar” as he acted out sleepless King Achashverosh in a game of Purim charades.

Purim is often billed as a holiday where it is a mitzvah to get drunk and party, but I disagree that substances are necessary to change your state of mind. In fact, these spirits can even detract from the holiday. At Melabev, it was so easy to laugh, shed my inhibitions and genuinely enjoy myself, imbibing in the true spirit of the holiday. Real simcha, joy, comes from being a part of a community that appreciates each individual’s abilities, life story and presence. That is exactly what Melabev offers to its club members, staff and volunteers. It is a joy to take my bus to Givat Mesuah even in an elaborate costume because there, I feel truly appreciated.

Volunteer Kayley Romick, a Jewish Theological Seminary rabbinic student spending the academic year in Jerusalem chose to spend her one free day each week during the spring semester volunteering at the Hebrew speaking Melabev Memory Club in Givat Masuah through Skilled Volunteers for Israel’s Young Professional track.