At American University Hillel, a Purim Celebration Brought Furry Fun — and Some Much-Needed Joy



March 28, 2024

In Jewish tradition, the month of Adar is full of joyous festivities, centering on one of the most celebratory holidays in the Jewish calendar: Purim. 

This year, Jewish college students are examining what it means to celebrate Purim during a time of war and rising antisemitism, as many grapple with feelings of fear, anxiety, and grief. 

With that as the backdrop for American University Hillel’s Purim event, “Purim: Pause for Paws,” students made it their mission to bring as much joy to their campus community as possible. They combined Purim education with activities designed to get students into the holiday spirit. 

“We wanted to include references to each of the Purim mitzvot,” said Naomi Fainchtein, assistant director at AU Hillel, referring to the four practices traditionally considered to be commanded as part of observing the holiday: hearing the megillah (the Purim story), giving to those in need, sending gifts to friends and family, and enjoying a Purim feast. 

The event included Megillah Trivia, popcorn and hamantaschen, and a station where students could write cards to their friends on campus.

But the biggest draw of the day was a petting zoo, representing the concept of v’nahafoch hu, sometimes translated as “turning it upside down” — the topsy-turvy nature of the Purim holiday. Jewish and non-Jewish students flocked to the quad to spend some quality time with rabbits, ducks, guinea pigs, and other furry friends. 

Ultimately, almost 400 students ended up stopping by.

“I was so proud of how many people came,” said Rachel Stolusky (Class of 2027), a member of the AU Hillel programming committee, which helped plan the event along with the Hillel wellness committee. 

“The reach we had was so amazing, and people had such good things to say. Obviously the petting zoo was a big hit, but people stayed to do the other Purim activities, too,” she said.

Wellness committee member Kate Wattenberg (Class of 2027) wholeheartedly agreed. 

“It was such a good way to bring people together,” she said. “And I think right now, it’s important for us to find as many things we can do together as a Jewish community as possible. It’s important that we’re able to do something fun.”

Kate is already thinking ahead to future Hillel events. With the success of the petting zoo, she’s looking into the possibility of bringing therapy dogs to campus as a way of giving Jewish students another way to relax and decompress. 

“Animals are always a great way to bring people together,” she said. “And right now, that’s really what we need.”

Congratulations to AU Hillel for such a successful event! Stay tuned for more stories of how campus Hillels across the country celebrated Purim.