Each year at the Chabad House at the University of California campus in Berkeley, there is a huge, exciting, not-to-be-missed Purim party. Everyone and everything is flying high at the party, including the pinatta filled with kosher candies that is part of the Purim festivities. A highlight of the party is when the winner of the costume contest is announced.
Rabbi Yehuda Ferris, the director of the Chabad House and himself in costume, announces the winner with great fanfare. Some of the costumes are very elaborate and ingenious, while others are fairly typical. Though, in truth, nothing is typical in Berkeley, California.
I will never forget the Purim party a few years ago when the announcement was made that "Steve the Gypsy" was the winner of the costume contest. The laugh was on all of us when we found out that Steve's Gypsy get-up was not a costume, but the way this nice, yet slightly misguided, Jewish guy dressed.
How had Steve the Gypsy gotten to the Purim party?
It all began with Lea, a young woman who had started coming around to the Chabad House. She, like many other young people her age, enjoyed hanging out with the characters on "Telegraph Avenue"-home to wanna- be hippies. She met Steve the Gypsy on Telegraph Avenue and as soon as she found out that he was Jewish, she insisted that he come with her to the Purim party that night.
Steve must have been in the right spirit on Purim, because he wasn't miffed at all that he had won the costume contest. In fact, far from being turned off by the honor of winning the costume contest, the Purim party was the first of many visits to the Chabad House and a turning point in Steve's life.
After that initial encounter, he kept coming back. He was interested in and inspired by everything he saw and learned. He started to learn Tanya (the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy) with Rabbi Ferris and drank in its mystical yet practical teachings. He was like a sponge.
Steve is now fully observant (as is Lea). He calls the Ferris' every year from wherever he is to keep us up to date on his life.
And whenever Purim draws near, and I start thinking about my family is going to dress up on Purim, I always think of Steve the Gypsy, and how Purim has the special ability to take off the costume which is covering the spark burning in every Jewish soul.