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Annual Purim Carnival brings a crowd to the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center

Lara Ginsberg, 23, reads

Lara Ginsberg, 23, reads "Sammy Spider's First Purim," to a group of children during a Purim carnival Sunday at the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center in Commack. (Feb. 24, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Fordyce

At just 3-years-old, Zoe Spielman does not fully comprehend the significance of Purim, the Jewish holiday often thought to resemble the American celebration of Halloween.

But that didn’t stop her from enthusiastically celebrating it in style Sunday at the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center’s annual Purim Carnival.

Decked out in her Strawberry Shortcake costume, she eagerly ran from one carnival game to another, leaving her father, Jeff Spielman, 46, of North Babylon, tagging along behind her trying to keep up.

“I love so much how they get the kids involved in a fun way,” he said of the Commack center. “It’s a great introduction to where I eventually want her to be religiously, historically and with everything. It gives her a taste of the holiday.”

Purim is the celebration of Queen Esther, who saved the Jews from destruction during the Persian empire. The story is written in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible and is often acted out by children as part of festivities.

And of course, the holiday offers the chance to break out the costumes.

“Any excuse to get dressed up is a good one,” Spielman said.

The halls of the JCC were filled with a sea of superheroes, princesses and even cute lions and cats, as kids arrived festively dressed for the celebration. They roamed from room to room at the community center where they could listen to children’s stories about Purim, make arts and crafts, try their hand at carnival games manned by young volunteers and bounce in bounce houses in the gymnasium.

Many even took part in a play with giant handmade figurines telling the story of Queen Esther.

Adam Bendeson, executive director of the JCC, said the event has been a tradition for more than 20 years.

“The goal is to open our doors to the community to celebrate Purim as a family,” he said, adding attendance ranges from 500 to 1,000 people each year. “My favorite part is seeing the kids come together to celebrate. We see people who wouldn’t normally celebrate Purim but they do because we are here.”

Marissa Pluskalowski, 30, of Smithtown, said she grew up coming to the JCC. She also worked there for a few years and is now considering registering her own family so they can regularly attend events like the Purim Carnival.

“I like that it is really all about family,” she said. “It brings the history of the holiday and makes it fun for the kids.”

Scott Margolis, of Smithtown, who came to celebrate with his 5-year-old daughter Chelsea and family friends, said the best part of coming to the JCC is the variety of activities.

“The costumes, the games, the fun, the kids just have a ball,” he said. “It’s nice in terms of holidays to all get together and keep up with the traditions as much as possible.”

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