By Mary Klaus
On Sunday, March 14, Harrisburg’s Jewish community let their hair down, literally and figuratively, by donning silly costumes, playing games, constructing crafts and making merry in a way they haven’t for two years.
The Purim Carnival was back at the Jewish Community Center in full force, with an energy and enthusiasm not seen or felt since early 2020. For a few hours, the community forgot to worry about the troubles in the nation and the world. People simply enjoyed being together at this beloved family fun day.
“Our Purim Carnival in 2020 was held a week before Covid-19 shut things down,” said Macy Deskiewicz, JCC assistant children and youth director. “Last year, the carnival was held online. Now, everyone is so happy to be back, to dress up, and just have fun.”
That was obvious from the more than 260 people attending the light-hearted event which focuses on the holiday celebrating the exploits of Esther, the Jewish wife of a Persian king.
Several of the women in the Mary Sachs Auditorium dressed as Esther, although other costumed people delighted in more secular costumes - the sillier seemingly the better.
Assaf Zilbering attended as a rooster while his 13-year-old son, Joel, trotted out a horse costume.
“Purim is a time of fun for adults, kids, and the community,” Zilbering said. Asked if he liked chickens, he grinned. “I love chicken, especially with garlic sauce and broccoli.”
Scott Rubin, famous for his delightful Purim costumes, this year appeared as Shredder, a villain of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fame.
“I loved the Ninja Turtles when I was growing up,” he said. “I watched them on television and dressed up as them, too.” His children like costumes, too, with Noah, 11, coming as a football player; Daniel, 8, as the Grim Reaper; and Sammy, 5, as My Little Pony.
Rena Cheskis dressed as a bowling pin while Vinnie Graeff, 11, came as a skeleton. Rabbi Ariana Capptauber portrayed a farmer, holding her 19-month-old son, Yonah, dressed as a Holstein cow.
Johanna and Aleza Ruse-Finver and their 8-month-old daughter, Aliyah, dressed as Minions, those adorably-diabolical creatures famous from the Despicable Me series.
“We were watching Despicable Me and got inspired for the three of us to come as Minions,” said Johanna.
The carnival visitors participated in arts, crafts, face painting, and games at various booths. Children jumped around in an inflatable bounce house, had their faces painted, and got wash-away tattoos.
People tried their carnival-style luck with a fish toss, hit golf balls, played “Sting the Bee” and “Bullz Eye,” and strung beads.
Diana Wells, who came as Queen Esther’s mother, showed that she was in touch with her inner child as she tossed plastic fish at the Penguin Fish Fling game. Her daughter, Dawn Wells, dressed as Esther and cheered her mother on.
“Esther was the ultimate figure of feminism at a time when women had no rights,” Dawn Wells said. “She inspires me to fight for what is right and good. Purim is my favorite holiday.”
At the craft tables, 4-year-old Ronen Match made a gragger, the noisemaker used to drown out the name of the villain Hamen when the story of Esther is read. Others strung beads and decorated Queen Esther crowns. Aida Hartman, 9, dressed as Marian as she made an Esther crown decorated with the words Volta and Riddle in tribute to the villain in the Harry Potter series.
Marilyn Klein attended the carnival dressed as Anna from the movie Frozen. She was accompanied by her daughter-in-law and three of her five grandchildren.
“I’m a kid at heart,” she admitted. “I live to celebrate and have fun. I come to Purim every year. Why should the kids have all the fun?”
Her daughter-in-law, Ortal Klein, said she lived in Israel until she was 32. She recalled dressing up for the holiday and participating in Israeli Purim parades.
Carnival-goers devoured hamantaschen, the Purim cookies which represent Haman’s three-cornered hat. The cookies were available in apricot, raspberry, cherry, apple, and chocolate chip.
Jennifer Ross, Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg president and CEO, called the day “a vibrant and fun way to celebrate the holiday.” Dressed as Anakin Skywalker, Ross said that the community’s last big celebration before COVID was the 2020 carnival.
“People have been yearning for another big event. We had that today. I saw a lot of multi-generation families here. I saw a lot of joy.”