Schenectady JCC festival brings community together for Jewish New Year

'We want to explore the fun aspect of it'
The Yeh family of Niskayuna feed and groom a rabbit during the Apple and Honey Festival on Sunday.
The Yeh family of Niskayuna feed and groom a rabbit during the Apple and Honey Festival on Sunday.

NISKAYUNA — A few dozen parents and their children gathered around a table inside the Schenectady Jewish Community Center on Sunday and fixed their eyes on a large, kosher cake.

Bright frosting spelled out the words, “Happy Birthday World!” After a brief countdown, the crowd began singing “Happy Birthday.”

In celebration of the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, the Schenectady JCC hosted an Apple and Honey Festival on Sunday, its second time putting on such an event. This year’s gathering was expanded to offer more activities for families looking to enjoy a community event, and to celebrate the upcoming Jewish New Year.

Apples and honey are symbolic in celebrations of Rosh Hashanah. Typically, an apple is dipped into honey to represent hopes for a “sweet” New Year, JCC Executive Director Mark Weintraub said. Wednesday will mark the world’s 5,778th year of existence, according to Jewish beliefs.

While last year’s event was confined to a multipurpose room inside the JCC on Balltown Road, this year’s festivities were spread around the building.

There was a bouncy house, a petting zoo, pony rides, food, playgrounds and, of course, apples and honey. Many kids made their way to the “apple blaster,” where they could load a slingshot with an apple and try to launch it into a laundry basket with a pot of honey taped to the front.


“It’s important for us, because we are the Jewish Community Center, to celebrate the holiday,” Weintraub said. “We want to explore the fun aspect of it and offer some family-focused activities so people can get involved.”

Roughly two-thirds of the JCC’s members aren’t Jewish, Weintraub said, so the holiday celebrations can also be an educational event for many attendees.

The Apple and Honey Festival is part of the community center’s “Celebration Series,” which is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York. The idea of the program is to essentially have some kind of celebratory event associated with each significant Jewish holiday, Weintraub said.

At least a couple hundred people filtered through the JCC campus on Sunday between 2 and 4 p.m., several of whom had not previously been to the community center. One man said he was familiar with the Albany JCC, but enjoyed taking his young daughter to the playgrounds at the Niskayuna location during the festival.

“It’s a beautiful day, it’s a way to celebrate the holiday and the kids seem to really be enjoying it,” another man said as kids nearby pet a rabbit.

The rabbits were Barabara Walton’s favorite part of the event, she said. The Niskayuna resident attended the festival with her 4-year-old grandson, Jacob.

“It’s very important to have a community event that you can attend with your family, but that also celebrates the holiday,” she said.

The Apple and Honey Festival was, for many, a multigenerational affair. A number of attendees visited with their grandchildren, including one woman from Schenectady who said she appreciated Rosh Hashanah getting its own dedicated community event.

The Schenectady JCC has been open for close to 100 years, Weintraub said, though not all at the same location. Considering its longevity and strong non-Jewish membership, Weintraub said there’s a clear community desire for events like the one on Sunday.

What is Rosh Hashanah?

It is the birthday of the universe, and is celebrated as the start of the Jewish New Year, according to Jewish beliefs. This year, it begins the evening of Sept. 20, and ends the evening of Sept. 22.

It is followed a week later by Yom Kippur.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

Leave a Reply