News: Top Stories

Jewish holiday takes on Mexican flavor

Last modified Sunday, March 4, 2007 9:36 PM PST

OCEANSIDE ---- Sombreros mingled

Nechama Greenberg gives a kiss to her son, Menachem, during the Mexican Purim Fiesta that was the theme of Chabad Jewish Center of Oceanside`s Purim Party Sunday.
Don Boomer

with Jewish skull caps, and the strains of mariachi music followed the reading of an ancient tale of liberation and courage as about 120 people gathered Sunday to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim at the Civic Center Library.
View A Video

Oceanside's fledgling Chabad Jewish Center organized the party, which combined Mexican culture with a Jewish religious observance. The center's founder, Rabbi Baruch Greenberg, moved through the crowd, his brightly colored shawl sometimes brushing up against traditional austere white shirts worn by some of the other men attending.

Partygoers lined up at a table holding Mexican kosher food prepared by a chef at another Chabad Jewish center in Tijuana. Kosher food is prepared in accordance with traditional Jewish recipes based on religious dietary laws.

The contrast between Jewish and Mexican traditions was all part of his plan, Greenberg said.

"Every culture has nice things. Every year, we try to do a new thing," he said. "Next time, it's going to be Chinese, Italian or something else."

Purim commemorates the 2,400-year-old story of how Esther, a beautiful queen, and her uncle Mordechai saved the Jews of Persia from an adviser to the Persian king who was plotting to annihilate them. Ancient Persia occupied the area now known as Iran.

Greenberg described the highlight of the party as the reading of the Megillah, which tells the story of Esther and Mordechai. At each mention of the name of Haman, the evil royal adviser, the partygoers followed the tradition of twirling their noisemakers and stomping their feet to drown out his name.

Purim requires celebrants to listen to a reading of the Megillah, prepare food for friends, perform charity for the poor and enjoy a good meal. Sunday's event also included Mexican craft projects for children and Passover items on sale at a table.

The crowd of about 120 was the same size as last year's gathering, Greenberg said. Greenberg founded the Chabad Jewish Center three years ago as part of the Chabad movement, a part of Orthodox Judaism that dispatches rabbis to all parts of the world. The movement offers Jewish residents an opportunity to learn about their religion and culture in communities where they have been inactive, isolated from one other or lacking in visibility.

"We have synagogue every month. Hopefully, very soon, we'll be open every Saturday," Greenberg said.

Greenberg said the Chabad Jewish Center is the only Jewish institution in Oceanside. He estimated the city's Jewish population at "a few thousand at least and slowly, slowly they are getting to know each other."

Several people interviewed at the event said they were grateful for Greenberg's efforts to bring Jews in Oceanside together through the Purim fiesta.

"I loved it," Rena Cohen said as she left the event. "He's succeeding in accomplishing his objective."

Cohen said she heard about the party when Greenberg came by her Vista home and dropped off a box of candy, nuts and dried sliced bananas. Her husband, Shalev, and their children, Arielle, 9, and Liam, who is almost 1, came along.

"We came here to see people and celebrate Purim. We just moved here and came to meet other Jewish people," said Ronen Shaham, a native of Israel who lived in Philadelphia for five years and moved to Oceanside a few days ago with Jessica, his wife, and their four-month-old son, Niv.

Nechama Greenberg, the rabbi's wife, passed out small toys to children who came before her in costumes reflecting Mexican or Jewish culture.

"I think Jews felt very lonely in Oceanside. Now they feel like they're part of a community," she said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at (760) 740-3516 or Comment at