SCOTCH PLAINS-WESTFIELD, NJ -- Congregation Beth Israel of Scotch Plains and Temple Emanu-El of Westfield, along with area Jewish camps, conducted The Purim Amazing Race on Sunday, February 21, in advance of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The Purim Amazing Race provided a safe and fun way for families to celebrate the festive holiday during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Purim Amazing Race was modeled after the popular television show, The Amazing Race. The scavenger hunt was open to congregants of all ages and abilities. To enroll, participants contributed items for the local food pantry, fulfilling the Purim commandment of giving gifts to the needy.

Approximately 75 teams of families raced around the towns of Scotch Plains and Westfield in their cars, with the goal of helping Queen Esther save the Jewish people, the way she did in the Biblical Purim story. Participants stopped at places such as the Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA, the JCC of Central NJ, and Kramer Park in Scotch Plains, and visited sites such as the Westfield Memorial Library, Mindowaskin Park, and McKinley School in Westfield. At each of the 15 outdoor locations, contestants participated in missions that were both educational and enjoyable, such as designing a crown for Queen Esther, or performing a family talent act for the Biblical King Ahasuerus’ pageant.

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“We needed to replace the traditional Purim carnival held in a crowded indoor space with an alternative activity held outside,” said Aviva Tilles, Director of Congregational Learning at Congregation Beth Israel. “We collaborated with Temple Emanu-El because our two synagogues faced the same challenges. And we realized that we could develop and implement something really great if we joined forces.”

Aviva Tilles partnered with Temple Emanu-El’s Samara Schwartz, Director of Youth Learning & Engagement, and Samantha Eichert, Assistant Director of Youth Learning & Engagement.

Area Jewish camps also helped with the Purim Amazing Race by creating and running four of the stops along the course. The camps included: Camp Yachad at the JCC of Central NJ; Camp Nah-Jee-Wah; Camp Ramah in the Berkshires; and Camp Harlam. Additionally, One Happy Camper, a non-profit organization, provided additional funding for the Purim Amazing Race because of the camps’ participation.

Feedback from parents and children alike was positive; many congregants remarked afterwards that they preferred the scavenger hunt to the usual Purim carnival.

“What an amazing job … you and your "leaders" did - 15 stops, all those activities, but moreover, an opportunity to get outside, interact with "real people", have a few laughs … and just get silly,” wrote Kathi Wolder, a congregant from Temple Emanu-El.  “We sang; we danced; we did crafts; we ran; and we learned a little more about Purim. Everyone was so cheery, and embracing, and welcoming.”