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Program Bank: Fighting Poverty on Purim

On Purim, giving matanot l’evyonim is an integral part of our celebration. We cannot rejoice unless we make it possible for those less fortunate to join in the festivities. Giving tzedakah allows the poor to be able to afford their own s’eudah, or festive meal. But there is also another aspect to the relationship between matanot l’evyonim and rejoicing. Jewish tradition expects that “everybody, even the poorest Israelite who accepts charity, [be] obliged to give at least two gifts to two poor persons” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Chapter 142). This law makes it clear that giving gifts on Purim is actually part of the rejoicing; in a sense, by compelling even the recipients of tzedakah to give to others, we are saying that there is a joy in giving that we want everyone to be able to experience.

This law requiring everyone to give matanot l’evyonim also blurs the lines between the rich and the poor. In our pursuit of economic justice and an end to the great gap between the most and least privileged, we also seek to erase those distinctions. In the Babylonian Talmud, Rava says, “One is obligated to be intoxicated on Purim until one does not know [the difference] between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai’” (BT Megillah 7b). Instead of becoming so drunk on Purim that we cannot tell the difference between the hero and the villain of our story, let us make Purim a day on which we envision a world that does not know such vast differences between the wealthy and the needy, but, rather, sustains all of its inhabitants in security and comfort.

Program Ideas for Individuals and Families

Fair Trade Mishloach Manot
Fill your mishloach manot baskets with Fair Trade products and create a more just and sustainable world while enjoying tasty treats. Click here to learn more!

Help Poor Jews Celebrate Purim
Contact your local Jewish agencies or congregation to find out if there is a community fund specifically to enable the Jewish poor to celebrate Purim. If there is no fund, create gifts of Purim goodies such as hamentaschen and bring them to people who would have difficulty buying the items themselves. Children of any age can decorate the boxes or make greeting cards to include. Gifts might be brought as part of a visit to a senior center or might be left anonymously. Your local Jewish Family Service or rabbi can provide you with a person or place that would love to receive your gift.

Have a Party and Feed the Hungry: The Purim Se'udah
Are you hosting or attending a Purim party or se'udah(festive meal)? Make a donation to Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger of a percentage of the cost of the food. Ask guests to bring donations of money or canned goods to help fulfill their obligation to give gifts to the poor—and to add meaning to your celebration.

Donate Grocery Store Gift Certificates
Congregation Beth Emeth in Herndon, VA asks congregants to donate grocery store gift certificates from any of the local stores to an interfaith food pantry to assist clients with meeting the dietary needs that the canned food drives cannot address. The certificates are also distributed by the Food Pantry staff for fresh foods that the pantry cannot stock.

Change Your Computer’s Home Page
Make the Hunger Site your computer’s home page. www.thehungersite.com is a free "click to give" site in which staple food is paid for by site sponsors and distributed to those in need by Mercy Corps and America's Second Harvest.

Program Ideas for Groups: Religious School Classes, Youth Groups, and Congregations

Read the Megillah and Fight Hunger

Let the Needy Benefit from Your Purim Carnival

  • ​Invite underprivileged children to join in the fun at your Purim carnival.
  • Donate the proceeds from the carnival to a local organization that assists families in need.
  • The post-B’nai Mitzvah class at Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains, NJ creates flyers to teach the congregation about the mitzvot of mishloach manot and matanot l’evyonim. The class also runs a booth at the Purim Carnival so that others can decorate handouts explaining the holiday of Purim and bags of treats to be given to the needy.

Organize a “Pennies for Purim” Fundraiser
(Adapted from Hillel’s “Pennies for Purim” Program: www.hillel.org)
Pennies for Purim is an innovative program that can get the entire community involved in the special Purim mitzvah of matanot l’evyonim. The basic idea is to raise funds by covering an area of the synagogue—a classroom, social hall, or other large space—in pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters, which will be donated to an organization that fights hunger or poverty. In the weeks leading up to Purim, spread the news that you are collecting coins for this incredible drive. Hold your big event on Purim, and have everyone involved bring their coins and spread them out on the space. Provide hamentaschen for everyone!

Create a “Cinderella’s Project” for Young Women in Need
Sinai Temple in Springfield, MA organizes a drive for special occasion dresses to be donated to inner-city teens in time for prom season. The synagogue collects the dresses and then donates them to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center in Springfield, MA, which manages their distribution. Create your own “Esther’s Project” or “Vashti’s Project” in celebration of Purim.

Hold a Masquerade Marathon
(Adapted from Hillel’s “Masquerade Marathon” Program: www.hillel.org)
Host a 24-hour masquerade dance marathon to raise money for a homeless shelter. Shifts can be made up of the different religious school classes, youth groups, and temple committees. Ask community organizations to sponsor individuals or groups.

Include a Purim “Reverse Lottery” for Tzedakah
The word “Purim” means “lots,” referring to the lots Haman drew to decide on which day the Jews would be destroyed. On this holiday of reversals, let us draw lots for good rather than evil. Hold a “reverse lottery” in which each prize is the privilege to make a charitable donation. The prizes can range from $2.00 to $200.00.

Teach about Poverty with “Pack it up for Purim”
Boston University’s Hillel designed a program to have students fulfill the mitzvah of matanot l'evyonim, giving gifts to the poor, on Purim, and to have them learn about hunger in Massachusetts. Students filled gift bags with a list of specific items by moving around the room and collecting items from different stations. Each station included facts about hunger (what causes it, who is affected by it, why it is a problem, etc.) so that students would read the information as they made their way around the room. When they finished packing the bag, they were encouraged to make cards and decorations for the bags at the arts and crafts table and to read about the organization to which the bags would be donated before getting a second bag to pack.

Create Eco-Friendly Mishloach Manot and Raise Money for the Hungry
Minyan Dorshei Derekh of the Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia, PA, a member of both the Conservative and Reconstructionist Movements,has created an alternative form of mishloach manot (packages of sweet foods and gifts traditionally given to neighbors and friends) for Purim. Members are invited to donate money, instead of handing out home baked and/or purchased goodies, which were always wrapped in plastic and given in disposable containers. Instead each household receives a basket (actually a reused clementine box!) full of goodies, and the remainder goes to food-related causes. Last year they included an energy efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb in each shaloch manot package as well, and still had over $1200 to donate to Mazon, Philabundance, and International Hunger programs. People who love to bake get together and contribute their goodies, which are included in the baskets, increasing the amount that can be given to tzedakah. They also include interesting educational materials and environmental information.

Take Your Religious School Class on a Social Action Field Trip
The eighth- and ninth-graders at Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester spend the weekend before Purim at Youth Service Opportunity Project, a non-profit organization committed to making young people a part of the solution to societal problems by helping them learn what a difference they can make in the lives of others. Workcamps vary in length from single day to weeklong. Participants touch the lives of more than 225,000 hungry and homeless people each year through their work in shelters, soup kitchens, schools, food and clothing banks and other direct-service institutions in New York City and Washington, DC.

Raise Money at “Esther’s Boutique”
On the night of Purim, Sinai Temple in Springfield, MA holds “Esther’s Boutique.” They set up a table in the foyer of the synagogue with different baby items (clothes, toys, etc), which congregants can “buy.” The articles are then donated to a local family shelter.

“Pick Haman's Pockets”
Temple Israel of Tulsa, OK created this program to educate congregants about the mitzvah of matanot l'evyonim as well as benefit the clients of the Parent-Child Center of Tulsa. Based on the principle of the "angel tree" we see in malls at Christmas time, the Parent-Child Center (PCC) staff gave the congregation (first) names of children in need and wishes/needs for each. The wishes were placed in hamentaschen-shaped pockets on a six-foot-tall wooden Haman who was placed in the foyer of the synagogue for several weeks before Purim. Pockets all over his person were color-coded so that folks could pick gift requests that were financially appropriate for them. Gifts were collected in a box alongside Haman and were delivered to the PCC just after Purim. Since many people associate Chanukah with gift giving, the aim of this program was to shed light on our traditional gift-giving holiday and benefit a worthwhile cause.