Purim was always a holiday Joe Erdman looked forward to during his youth.
With winter waning and spring on the horizon, it was a time to celebrate, the Niskayuna man recalled. A time for carnivals — to dress up in colorful costume, eat good food and gather with friends of the Jewish faith and otherwise.
“What’s there not to like?” he asked.
An adult now, Erdman brought his 3-year-old daughter Mara to the Jewish Community Center of Schenectady on Sunday so that she could forge her own fond memories of Purim. And that seemed fairly easy for the youngster, dressed in a princess gown and reveling in the carnival atmosphere of the celebration.
Likewise, 7-year-old Isaiah Delman of Pattersonville was reveling in the celebratory atmosphere that surged through the center. Dressed as Super Mario from the eponymous Nintendo video game series, he bounced from one booth to the next with an ear-to-ear smile on his face.
“They love it here,” said his father, Michael Delman. “They remember it.”
Purim celebrations commemorate the deliverance as told in Scripture of the Jewish people from a plot that had formed to destroy them in the Persian empire. Haman, an adviser to the Persian king, was on the brink of executing his plan when it was foiled by Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther, who rose to become queen of Persia.
Though the events that inspired Purim are dark and somewhat complex, the message of the holiday is simple enough for even young children to understand. The ideals of the holiday are focused around rejoicing, feasting and giving to the less fortunate.
“We celebrate the miracle that took place,” said Rabbi Moshe Mirsky of Congregation Beth Israel in Schenectady. “[The Jewish people] were saved by the efforts of Mordecai and Esther. It was a time of great spiritual resurgence.”
Also, it’s time to celebrate community. Purim in the Capital Region is an event that helps bring people from different congregations together in celebration, and even some of their friends from other religions.
Three congregations were represented among the more than 400 people who turned out for the community center’s observance. Some simply brought their children to enjoy the festive atmosphere put on at the community center.
“There’s a sense of Jewish solidarity on a day like this,” said Rabbi Matt Cutler of the Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady. “It’s an opportunity to come together and celebrate what unites us.”
The center’s observation occurs a week in advance of the holiday, which ordinarily is celebrated annually on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. The observance featured a costume parade lead by Mark Weintraub, the JCC’s executive director, who chose to be king for a day.
Sporting a crown and multicolored robe, he led a procession of children through the center’s auditorium and down to a carnival set up in its gymnasium. He was accompanied by the rabbis of the three congregations, each whimsically dressed to the delight of the young revelers.
“They love it,” he said of the children. “They’re so excited.”
For Delman, Purim gives the chance to show his children a side of the religion they might not garner at synagogue or in Hebrew school. At the same time, though, it teaches them messages of solidarity and community that are fundamental to the religion.
“This is the fun side,” he said.