Aerial Arts at Temple Beth El for Purim 2015
Democrat and Chronicle
Sarah Taddeo, Staff writer
The Jewish holiday of Purim may be one of the only times you’ll see outrageous costumes, circus dancers and a religious scripture reading rolled into one.
Purim festivities began Wednesday, symbolizing Jewish deliverance from the Persian Empire, as told in the story of Esther in Jewish scriptures. Jewish communities around the world, including Rochester Jewish residents at Temple Beth El, celebrated the holiday with the traditional festival motif.
A festival signifies the happiness of Jewish freedom, as well as incorporating masquerade masks, which signify Queen Esther’s concealed identity as a Jew from the Persian king until the proper time, when she saved the Jews from destruction by evil nobleman, Haman, said Temple Beth El Senior Rabbi Leonardo Bitran.
“You never know how help is going to come or from where,” he said. “This is a message of hope.”
Temple Beth El decided to step it up from their usual annual festivities this year, and brought in a troupe of cirque dancers to perform a circus-themed interpretation of Esther’s story, said the Temple’s Executive Director Deborah Zeger.
“We’ve been trying to take everything to the next level, to get people interested in coming to synagogue,” she said.
The Up! State Cirque Performance Troupe, including performers from the Aerial Arts of Rochester, twirled and tumbled their way through the Esther story on silks and hoops suspended in the air.
This was an unusual performance for the troupe, said Aerial Arts of Rochester owners and performers William and Jennifer D’Ovidio, in that it incorporated a lot of theatrics and mime. Cast members wore themed masks to impersonate main characters.
“At Purim, they usually read the same thing every year,” William D’Ovidio said, referring to the traditional “Megillah reading,” or the reading of the Esther story in Hebrew and English.
At Temple Beth El, costumed children and Rabbi Bitran read the story — the entire room twirled noisemakers and booed whenever the name “Haman” was mentioned.
“This performance is a unique way for them to see the story — not just hear it,” said Jennifer D’Ovidio.
Although Leslie Johnson of Brighton thinks the holiday is rather “chaotic” and didn’t like dressing up in Jewish school as a child, she admits it’s a fun celebration and reminder of Jewish perseverance.
“Kids get really into it, and it’s a nice story about how Jews prevailed through persecution,” she said. She dressed up as Betty Crocker for the Beth El event.
Debbi Till, a rabbi and director of community relations with the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester, brought two of her children to the celebration, and remembers looking forward to exciting Purim events as a child. “It was always the single most festive Jewish holiday,” she said.
Her daughter Jordan Tabachnikoff, 8, shared some history about traditional Purim confections, called “hamantaschen” — “they’re triangle cookies, shaped like Haman’s triangle hat,” she said.
Through all the festivities, Till said she hopes the message of freedom and abolishing persecution will shine through.
“In addition to the fun, I hope that people remember to stand up to injustice, which is both an issue of old and a contemporary one,” she said.