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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 18, 2006

Purim fest survives torrents

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

Rabbi Dovid Tilson, standing in back, and about 12 others endured Kaua'i's heavy rains on Tuesday to gather at Kapa'a Park.

Rabbi Yossel Groner

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For a few moments Tuesday, two young rabbis driving Kaua'i's drenched highway came to know the meaning of "torrential rain."

Yet rabbis Yossel Groner of Melbourne, Australia, and Dovid Tilson of Randolph, N.J., braved the rain-slicked roads on Tuesday, the day Kaua'i saw fatal flooding that swept away homes, because of the concept of "hashgacha protis," or divine providence. They knew where they were meant to be celebrating the joyous Jewish festival of Purim.

The two 20-year-olds, here for Orthodox rabbinical training, heard their hearts thumping in their chests as fast as the windshield wipers, set on full blast in the unrelenting rain, as they slowly made their way from the airport to Kapa'a Park, where the Purim festival was to take place.

"We were still here on a mission," said Tilson, "and we were going to go on with it. We were not going to let (our fears) get in the way."

Yet he admits, "I was praying the whole time."

The Purim celebration in Kapa'a, Kaua'i, had long been planned; families with children from the Hebrew school in Princeville were going to drive down for the holiday, and a clown had been hired. They were going to have kosher food and beat the drums.

Purim celebrates ancient Persian events described in the Book of Esther. As the story goes, the evil prime minister Haman wanted to exterminate the Jews in the kingdom of Ahasueros (Xerxes) but he was foiled by Queen Esther and her Uncle Mordechai.

Groner and Tilson weren't going to be foiled, however even if they'd heard the news of rains pouring down on Kaua'i before they got on a plane to Kaua'i from O'ahu. Once they arrived at the Lihu'e Airport, they heard warnings about washed-away roads and other obstacles to travel on the North Shore.

The plane ride was one thing they made it, even if their box of Purim presents for the children didn't but that wasn't all. Once they arrived on Kaua'i, they got on the phone and were told the news: Many of the Hebrew school kids were unable to get out of Princeville, and the clown would not be able to get there from Po'ipu.

Nevertheless, Tilson and Groner pushed on. They finally pulled into the park, only to find that the people who were planning to put up the tent couldn't get it to work; the ground was too soggy, and the pegs wouldn't hold.

Yarmulkes soaking, the two stayed by the car, knowing people were coming for the festival. Sure enough, a few trickled in, and the group decamped to the shelter of the nearby community center.

With about a dozen people in attendance, the occasion could be commemorated. There was little occasion for joy, however, as one Jewish friend who arrived late because of the bad traffic had received terrible news: Two friends were among the seven missing.

Groner turned the drama of the day into a message, something that resonated through the gray skies a lesson on the strength of the many.

"We adapted (the Purim story)," said Groner, stroking his straggly beard, struggling to translate a Hebrew saying into English. "The lesson is, people seemed totally lost, written off, yet they recommitted themselves and came through adversity. We're living the lesson from that event."

Back on O'ahu, the leaders of Chabad, where the two young men are undergoing rabbinical training, were proud of the Purim event, and of Groner and Tilson.

"Despite all odds, they pulled it off," said Pearl Krasnjansky.