By Lisa Woolfson
There were almost no empty seats in the room at the University of Maryland’s Stamp Student Union where the megillah was being read for Purim on Monday.
When the Maryland Hillel’s recitation of the Scroll of Esther was done, confetti fell. People cheered and the party began.
Music blasted and suddenly there was a crowd eating, dancing and taking photos. There were chefs and butterflies, even a grim reaper. Most seemed not to hesitate to eat the communal food. No one appeared to be practicing social distancing, despite warnings from the university about the dangers of the novel coronavirus.
“We are taking normal precautions and celebrating nonetheless,” said Noa Havivi, Hillel’s engagement associate.
Student Meira Goldfischer said the risk wasn’t high enough for her to skip the happiest day of the Jewish calendar.
“The coronavirus outbreak has definitely caused me to momentarily hesitate, but this holiday is very important to me, and there isn’t a crazy high risk in this area right now, so I’m happy to go,” she said. “I just know that I should be using hand sanitizer throughout the night.”
The campus Jewish group Meor has 20 to 30 people at its events. At those relatively small gatherings, Rabbi Ari Koretsky didn’t feel the need to make any changes. “Obviously we will monitor and if the situation evolves, we will respond accordingly,” he said.
Student Ben Rosenbaum said the threat of the coronavirus didn’t even cause him to hesitate to attend Purim services. Besides, he had committed to being a megillah reader. “But even without considering that, the coronavirus would not have changed anything for me,” he said.
Those celebrating at the Chabad at the University of Maryland were a little more cautious.
Rabbi Eli Backman said, “We will be hosting our events throughout Purim. It is a time to celebrate and share the miracles of both then and now. Joy helps alleviate fear and panic.”
But he added that Centers for Disease Control recommendations should be followed, and that handwashing would be both available and encouraged at the Purim event. He said organizers were also disinfecting the Chabad House and asking people to sit a little farther apart than usual, if possible.
It was the last party for a while. On March 10, the university announced it was cancelling classes the week after spring break (March 23-29), and that the university would move online on March 30 until at least April 10, including classroom instruction.
There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the University of Maryland’s campus, according to a university spokesperson.
Lisa Woolfson is a student at the University of Maryland and a staff writer for the Mitzpeh Jewish student publication.