NISKAYUNA — Hundreds gathered at Congregation Agudat Achim Sunday to take part in the 44th Annual Carrot Festival, where revelers paused to reflect on the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the sacrifices made by frontline workers throughout the pandemic.
This year’s festival carried a theme of remember, honor and celebrate, and marked a return to normalcy for the festival, which took place the past two years with various modifications due to safety concerns associated with the pandemic.
“It’s nice to have it back to normal,” said Rabi Rafi Spitzer of Congregation Agudat Achim.
The festival attracted a steady stream of attendees, who arrived by the car load before splintering off to browse more than a dozen local vendors scattered throughout the property and various family-friendly activities that included everything from face painting to a petting zoo.
Others situated themselves in front of the stage, where several musical acts performed throughout the day.
But the main attraction was the various food items for sale, including several varieties of carrot cake that volunteers began baking back in July. Other items included brisket sandwiches, potato latkes and knishes, as well as vegan fare.
“It’s a true family day,” said Sue Shaffer, a Clifton Park resident who was spotted walking the grounds in a carrot costume passing out candy to children.
Hillary Fink, chair of the festival committee, said the event began as a fundraiser for the congregation, which was seeking to raise money for a new parking lot by selling produce from its carrot shed. The festival has evolved in the decades since and now attracts upwards of 3,000 people annually.
The goal, she said, is gather as one, while working to benefit the community they live in.
A CDTA bus was located on the far end of the property, where attendees dropped off donations to benefit four community organizations: the Animal Protective Foundation, Joseph’s House and Shelter, Reading is Fun, and RISSE, an Albany-based organization that works to provide support for refugees and immigrants.
There was also a community service tent, where various nonprofits handed out information.
“The purpose of the festival is to bring the community together,” Fink said. “It’s so important for us to be together as a community.”
Activities came to a pause around noon for a 9/11 remembrance ceremony during which several guest speakers reflected on the 21st anniversary of the terror attacks carried out by a group of terrorists who hijacked four airliners, crashing them into World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands. A fourth airliner crashed in a Pennsylvania field, after passengers battled the terrorists for control of the plane, killing all onboard.
Charles Friderici, a past chief of Niskayuna’s Fire District No. 2, said the attacks changed the course of America and the impacts are still being felt more than two decades later.
He pointed out that first responders helped save thousands in the aftermath of the attacks and compared their bravery to superheroes, but noted that many who responded are continuing to die from diseases caused by the hazardous materials found in the rubble of the World Trade Center.
“Twenty-one years on, there are still people who are sick,” Friderici said. “There are still people who are dying.”
Others who spoke said first responders continue to make sacrifices on a daily basis, and noting that first responders worked throughout the pandemic, putting themselves at risk.
Philip Schwartz, a spokesman for Ellis Hospital, said as the world continues to emerge from the pandemic, people should remember what they have in common and reflect on how those on the frontline came together for the good of the community.
“As we reflect on monumental moments in history, whether it’s the terrorist attack in 2001 or the global pandemic, we see tragedies that can create confusion, sadness and uncertainty,” he said. “But we can focus too on our deep wells of resilience and our extraordinary ability to adapt for the good of our neighbors and our communities.”
The ceremony was moving for those in attendance, including Regina Baker, a Schenectady resident who attends the Carrot Festival each year.
Baker said she was looking forward to catching up with friends, which she noted has been difficult over the last few years.
“We have to embrace the new normalcy and enjoy what we have,” she said.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.
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