A rabbi with a bright purple beard surveyed the rowdy crowd of kids scampering around Gavin Park’s gym Sunday and smiled.
On an ordinary day, Rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein’s bushy facial hair is a snowy gray, but this was a special occasion — the Fourth Annual Purim Carnival, sponsored by The Jewish Federation in conjunction with Temple Sinai in Saratoga Springs.
The event was held in honor of Purim, a holiday commemorating the deliverance of Jews in the ancient Persian Empire from extermination in the wake of a plot devised by Haman, an adviser to the king of Persia. The story is found in the Bible’s book of Esther.
The holiday is celebrated annually on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar.
“It’s a time to let loose and have fun. We often talk about very serious and important values like social justice and caring for each other in the community, but fun is also a value,” Rubenstein pointed out. “But Purim does have the aspect of generosity and of giving, and caring for the poor as well, so it’s a little more nuanced than just fun.”
A whole lot of fun was being had at Sunday’s carnival, where kids played games like Purim Plinko and Pin the Crown on Esther. They jumped in a bounce house, slid down a blow-up slide, had fights with balloon swords and ate cupcakes with loads of colorful frosting.
Rebecca Oppenneer, co-organizer of the event, called Purim the Mardi Gras of Judiasm.
“I grew up as a child having a tremendous Purim carnival in Utica and it was like my one happiest memory of my childhood, so that’s what got me to start [this event],” she said.
Over the years, the carnival has become quite a draw, welcoming Jewish and non-Jewish revelers alike.
“Word has gotten out that it’s just a fun, family-friendly event,” said co-organizer Rachel Rosan. “I think it helps to bring the Jewish community into the Saratoga Community and vice versa, and I think that the best way to do that is through our children.”
Thirteen-year-old Robbie Michalofsky of Saratoga Springs was enjoying the festivities with his mother, Amy Kantor, and grandmother, Claire Kantor.
“I’m looking around at the scenery, soaking in the Purim atmosphere,” Robbie said, taking it all in from the bleachers that flanked the gym.
Amy Kantor said her mom took her to similar events in Brooklyn when she was a child.
“It was fun,” Claire Kantor chimed in.
Across the way, Rabbi Abba Rubin from Saratoga Chabad was handing out hamantaschen — triangle-shaped, fruit-filled cookies that are a Purim staple.
Dressed in an apple costume, with a jester hat on his head, he explained his interesting get-up: “On Purim you are supposed to be merry and happy, so we do that, dress up.”
Emma Maiorella, 5, of South Glens Falls, also dressed up for the occasion in a pink princess dress and sparkly pink sneakers. She was intently rummaging through a brown paper bag full of prizes she’d won at the carnival, and proudly pulled out a bouncy ball, a pink punching balloon, a pencil and a little pad of paper.
She confirmed shyly that she was having a very fun day.