Purim’s cheerful celebration: College’s Hillel organization hosts annual Purim Carnival, emphasizes Jewish history, heritage


Sunday, March 24, a fun-filled carnival was held on the Sunken Garden in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The event was hosted by Hillel, a pluralistic Jewish student group at the College of William and Mary. Hillel President Lilly Tanenbaum ’25 was enthusiastic about using the occasion to share what the group is all about. 

“Our goal is to just give Jewish students a place to meet other Jewish students and celebrate holidays, or engage with Jewish culture or learning or just socialize,” Tanenbaum said. “It’s kind of whatever people want it to be. It’s different for a lot of people, but our goal is just to be a home for Jewish students.”

One way that the organization works to achieve this goal is through the annual Purim Carnival, which has been seen as a resounding success over the last three years by many members of the club. The story behind the holiday that prompted this celebration is of a Persian King that needed a new wife. He held a beauty pageant and picked a girl named Esther, who was Jewish. Her uncle Mordecai warned her not to divulge her religion, and she agreed. One day, Mordecai refused to kneel before Haman, the King’s advisor. He was enraged and decided to exterminate all the Jews on the 13th of Adar, a date chosen by random lottery. This is where the holiday gets its name, as Purim means “lots” in Persian. Mordecai heard of this plot and convinced Esther to go to the King and tell him her identity in order to save her people. However, this act took a lot of strength, as most people who go before the King without permission are killed. She fasted for three days and asked everybody in the city to fast as well to give her strength, and by telling the King and putting her own life at risk, she was able to save her people.

 “It’s a story about being strong when absolutely needed and the strength of the community,” attendee Aaron Weinmann ’26 said. 

The Purim Carnival not only served as a celebration of the salvation of the Jewish people from extermination, but also a celebration of how deep ties within a community can give its members the strength to handle anything life may throw. The carnival games provided an opportunity to form those connections, both with old friends and new ones. Tanenbaum excitedly shared the different activities the carnival had to offer: bumper balls, face paint, a photo booth and a band that entertained the crowd with live music. In addition, a marriage booth, which Tannenbaum explained was a classic Purim carnival activity, allowed students to receive fake marriage certificates. Another favorite was a game where students picked rubber ducks out of a bucket to win prizes. Tanenbaum credited Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity at the College, for hosting several fun activities as well, including a dunk tank and Pie a Pi.

Many students were excited to share their favorite parts of this beloved holiday tradition. For some, the food associated with the event holds especially fond memories. A crowd favorite was Hamentaschen, which, as Tanenbaum explained, are triangular cookies that represent Haman’s triangular hat from the Purim story and are usually filled with jam or chocolate.  

“The Wednesday and Thursday before the carnival, we made hundreds of Hamantaschen. That was really fun and then getting to hand them out and see people enjoy them is really nice,” Tanenbaum said. “So I think the combination of the baking that happens before and then getting to hand them out is my favorite part.” 

Another student and attendee, Noa Rudisch ’27, wholeheartedly agreed. 

“I love all the Hamantaschen and the community that’s here,” Rudisch said. “It’s a vibe.” 

AEPi President Jacob Goldberg ’25 emphasized a love for the various carnival activities, both old and new, and their ability to bring people at the festival together. 

“I just love that it’s a great opportunity for the different sides of the Jewish community here to come together,” Goldberg said. “It’s always a lot of fun. We’ve never done the dunk tank before, and I haven’t done the Pie a Pi before, so those parts are new, but I’m really excited.” 

The students involved with Hillel and with organizing the carnival had hoped that attendees were able to take something new away from the experience. 

“I’m hoping that Jewish students who come are really excited to see something they remember from their childhood and that non-Jewish students get to learn about the holiday,” Tanenbaum said. “We do a Megillah reading, which is a reading of the Purim story, so it’s definitely an opportunity for people who don’t know a lot about Purim to learn, and by extension, for people who don’t know a lot about Judaism to learn something about Judaism.” 

Weinmann echoed a similar sentiment when discussing the Purim Carnival and specifically highlighted the original story the holiday is about. 

“Hopefully, the story of Purim will be able to touch them in their own personal lives about personal strength and resilience against evil factors at play,” Weinmann said. 

But in addition to the deeper meanings of the holiday and its cultural significance, the organizers of the event hoped that everyone who attended the Purim Carnival was simply able to have a good time. 

“I hope they can take away a little slice of what it’s like to celebrate and have fun with the Jewish community because we like to party,” Goldberg said. “We like to have a good time and I think this is a great way to show people that.”


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