BY MATTHEW L. McKIBBEN
NISKAYUNA — For Scott and Gina Steiner, the Purim celebration at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center is a way to celebrate a holiday while having fun with family and friends.
The Niskayuna couple, who have been attending the celebration for roughly 20 years, said March 1 that they treasure the opportunity to enjoy a holiday with community residents they have known for almost a half-century.
“It’s just a lot of fun, to come here and be able to eat food and spend time with a lot of our dearest friends,” she said. “It’s not really a religious holiday for us, it’s more about just interacting with the community.”
Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the release of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire, where a plot had been formed to eradicate them. The story is recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther. Both adults and children eat a fruit-filled triangular cookie called hamantash. It is meant to symbolize the defeated enemy of the Jewish people and resembles the three-cornered hat of Haman, the villain of Purim.
Aside from the quality time she spends with her family, Tina Grunner, of Schenectady, said the cookies are her favorite part of the holiday.
“I don’t really eat pastries or sweets the rest of the year,” she said. “But during Purim I really give myself a break and indulge.”
SJCC Executive Director Mark Weintraub called Purim a family-oriented holiday that celebrates a triumph in Jewish history.
“We have bouncy castles, arts and crafts, food and a number of other things going on,” he said, noting 75 percent of the SJCC’s members aren’t Jewish. “For us, it’s not really about the religious aspect of the holiday, but instead just offering a place for kids and parents to have fun.”
Weintraub said the celebration brings the three local synagogues together and allows them to put aside their different approaches to Judaism for one day.
“Some of them are very religious and some aren’t,” he said. “So obviously there are going to be differences in the way they view the religion. But today gives them a chance to put aside their differences.” He added that he had spoken with a number of visitors who weren’t Jewish but were interested in the learning about the holiday.
Gilah Moses of Niskayuna said she enjoyed seeing her neighbors and celebrating such a joyous holiday. “The JCC is a great host for a celebration like this,” said Moses, who attended the event with her 5-year-old daughter, Josie. “The kids really feel at home here and they get to interact with each other and the parents know they are in a safe environment.”