Costumes, masks add color to Purim celebration in Niskayuna

It looked like Halloween had come in February at the Jewish Community Center Sunday afternoon.


It looked like Halloween had come in February at the Jewish Community Center Sunday afternoon.

Children were dressed as princesses, animals and superheroes, and adults wore hats, masks and wigs. The carnival-like atmosphere wasn’t for Halloween, however, but for Purim, a Jewish holiday that celebrates the deliverance of the Persian Jews from massacre.

“It’s a time to break away from every day tradition and be silly,” Sharon Cutler, president of the JCC board of directors, said.

Jews celebrate the holiday by bringing together the community for a festival, complete with costumes, games, crafts and food.

The Dorothy Ludwig Schenectady JCC, along with four synagogues in the area sponsored the annual Purim Community Festival on Sunday afternoon.

About 20 booths were set up for crafts and other games in the upstairs cafeteria and downstairs gymnasium and exercise room of the center. Youth programs at each of the sponsoring synagogues and at the JCC helped create the booths of games and crafts, according to Andy Katz, director of after-school programs at the JCC.

About 200 children and adults attended the festival.

Jews also celebrate Purim by going to temple at the start of the holiday, which began at sundown Saturday, and listening to a reading of the story. Each time the villain Haman’s name is said out loud, Jews boo and wave noisemakers. The story is recorded in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible.

Tamara and Richard Harrow of Niskayuna like the fact that their children can make noise at temple during Purim. The Harrows have 2-year-old triplets and a 5-year-old daughter.

The Harrows had their hands full Sunday afternoon looking after their triplets, Lily, Joshua and Ryan, who were dressed as a princess, a pumpkin and a penguin, and their 5-year-old daughter, Sarah Gabrielle, was dressed in a princess costume and was pretending to be Queen Esther, the hero of the Purim story.

The Harrow children were especially excited about an inflatable obstacle course that was popular with most of the children at the festival.

In between jumps, Sarah Gabrielle said her favorite part about Purim was “playing.”

Syle Benami, 11, and her friend Shira Siegel, 10, both of Niskayuna, also said playing and dressing up was the best part of Purim. The girls won their temple’s costume contest. Benami was dressed as a Hershey kiss, and Siegel as a berry-filled hamantaschen.

As with all Jewish holidays, Purim is celebrated with food, including hamantaschen, which are cookies in the shape of a triangle modeled after the villain Haman’s three-pointed hat.

Siegel said she also liked getting gift baskets full of candy and cookies during Purim.

Joe Shaing of Niskayuna celebrated Purim with his two children Orit, 6, and Elan, 10.

Shaing said his family celebrates Purim by giving gift baskets, which his two children help put together and give out to friends and family.

Adults also participated in the festivities with creative costumes.

Mark Weintraub, director of the JCC, rented a brightly colored robe for the festival. He said he was dressed as Joseph with his amazing technicolor dream coat, a reference to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical interpretation of the story in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Genesis.

Weintraub said Purim is a time of play for children and adults.

“It’s just a really fun time of year when the adults get to act like children and the children get to dress up and have fun,” he said.

Each of the rabbis of the sponsoring synagogues dressed up in costumes.

Matt Cutler, rabbi at the Temple Gates of Heaven on Eastern Avenue, said the theme of Purim at his synagogues this year was the circus, so he attended the Purim festival at the JCC dressed as the ring master, complete with large top hat, red vest and coat with tails.

“The idea is to pretend to be someone that you’re not,” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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