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Bay Ridge Jewish Center’s Purim party

Holiday illuminates the struggles of minority Jewish communities

The Brooklyn Paper
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It was pure fun at the Purim celebration at the Bay Ridge Jewish Center.

Some 130 costumed characters turned up at the Fourth Avenue synagogue on March 15 for its third-annual Purim party.

Leaders at the religious institution said that the crowd was big increase from last year, when only about 90 people came out. They attributed the event’s growing popularity to the synagogue’s swelling congregation — which added 15 families since last July — and to longtime residents who finally decided to take part in festivities.

“There’s a lot of people who say they’ve walked by the synagogue for years but never set foot in the door,” said Rabbi Dina Rosenberg, adding that she suspects the newcomers will become a permanent part of the shul. “Once they walk in the door, they almost always stay around.”

On top of cavorting in their costumes and eating traditional hamantashen cookies, the partygoers read the Megillah, which tells the story behind Purim. The scroll describes how Haman, a power-hungry aide to the king of Persia, tried to force people to bow to him personally. One Jewish man among the populace, Mordecai, refused to revere Haman — and so Haman convinced the king to slaughter all the Jews. But it so happened that the king was seeking a queen, and had fallen in love with Mordecai’s niece, Esther — not realizing the beautiful woman was Jewish. Esther told the king that Haman was conspiring to kill her and her family, though she still did not share the truth of her identity. The king had Haman hung on the gallows once intended for the Jews.

Rosenberg said that the tale speaks to Jewish people living in communities where they are in the minority — like Bay Ridge, which is predominantly Christian and Muslim. The costumes symbolize how both Haman and Esther disguised their true motives. But they also give people a chance to enjoy themselves while taking part in Jewish traditions.

“What we’re trying to show is it’s fun to be Jewish, and there are a lot of great people here to be part of a community and embrace,” the rabbi said.

The congregants also took part in another Purim tradition — charity. The children and their parents made gift baskets at the party to deliver to the homebound elderly, which many of them dropped off personally.

“Part of this is realizing we have to give to our family,” Rosenberg said. “The question of Purim is how do you both fit in the community and still have a strong Jewish faith and practice.”

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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