A rabbi, a dinosaur and a llama walked into the Chabad Jewish Center in Vancouver earlier this week.
But this isn’t a joke. The local Jewish community gathered Tuesday night to celebrate Purim, and members of all ages dressed up for the holiday, which encourages costumes of any kind.
“It’s our most festive holiday,” Rabbi Shmulik Greenberg said. “The message of this day is that God is in our lives. It’s maybe not visible, so we need to connect the dots constantly. So this holiday is very happy. We all dress up. It’s kind of the same concept: We hide ourselves.”
Children and adults came into the synagogue wearing “STRAIGHT OUTTA ISRAEL” shirts, butterfly wings, princess dresses and military outfits — not to mention the dinosaur costume.
Purim celebrates the survival of the Jewish people through a genocide under the first Persian Empire about 2,500 years ago. Costumes are typically worn to honor Esther, a Jewish girl who helped prevent the persecution by hiding her identity from Persian leaders.
“It’s a holiday that basically touches every person in the Jewish nation. They didn’t just want to kill the elite or the children or the adults; it was all over the world. So it touches every Jew everywhere,” Greenberg said.
Purim takes place annually on the 14th day of Adar, a Hebrew calendar month that roughly aligns with March.
The event began with Greenberg reading the Megillah of Esther, which recounts the history of the holiday. Children waited impatiently in their seats to use their groggers — noisemakers — to drown out the name of Haman, the villain of the story.
After the reading, members loaded their dinner plates with falafel, hummus, shawarma and hamantaschen, a filled pastry associated with the holiday. Children drank freshly squeezed orange juice, and adults sipped on Dead Sea Breeze cocktails.
“This is the most festive holiday. It’s a real celebration, and part of it is giving back,” said Jonathan Weiss, a Vancouver resident who attended. “There’s a part of it where you give to charities. You have to find somebody who needs something and give to them. And part of it is giving food, so you give food to each other. It’s largely symbolic, but it’s all about giving.”
Festive music played over speakers while the community ate together in celebration. And then the llama and alpaca arrived.
Brought by Classy Camelids, the animals came into the synagogue dressed for the occasion and quickly stole the show, as children and adults alike crowded around to feed carrots to the friendly animals and take pictures.
The celebration lasted several hours. By the end, there were no remaining carrots for the animals and no more falafel for the humans.
“Outside people might think because it’s an Orthodox community that they’re really closed off, but they’re very welcoming,” said Melanie Maurer, whose family moved to the area last year and all arrived Tuesday night wearing Dallas Stars hockey jerseys. “My husband’s not even Jewish, but he feels so welcome and comfortable here. I think when people see ‘Orthodox,’ they get turned off, and I was kind of scared, too, but it’s not scary at all.”