Sunday was a great day for the Jewish community of Bellmore-Merrick to celebrate Purim, at the 28th Annual Mel Polay Purim Carnival. Founded by Evelyn Polay, a member of Congregation Beth Ohr in Bellmore, in honor of her late husband, Mel, the Purim celebration has been a fixture in the community for years.
About five years ago, Congregation Beth Ohr merged with Temple Israel of South Merrick. Temple Israel’s former location on Clubhouse Road is now Beth Ohr’s Merrick annex, and has served as the perfect spot for the carnival since the merger. Though Purim did not technically begin until Monday at sundown, children and families gathered early to celebrate what many carnival goers deemed an especially fun holiday.
Purim celebrates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, an official of the First Persian Empire, who was planning to have all of Persia’s Jewish subjects killed. Queen Esther, the Jewish wife of the Persian King Xerxes is credited as the heroine, alongside her cousin Mordecai, for saving the Jewish people. Today, the holiday is celebrated by reading the Book of Esther — or the Megillah — and by completing 5 mitzvot, or commandments.
According to Beth Ohr’s cantor, Joshua Diamond, these mitzvot include attending a Megillah reading during the evening on the day Purim begins, and attending a second reading the following morning. “It’s very important you hear it both times,” he noted.
The additional mitzvot include giving gifts to the poor, doing the same for friends and family members, and enjoying a traditional Purim feast.
During readings of the Megillah, which is a large scroll, and can take about a half hour to listen to in full, Diamond said, it’s tradition to try and “block out” the name “Haman,” every time it is read, which can make for a fun time for families and children.
Beth Ohr’s Purim readings took place on Monday evening, the start of the holiday, and again on Tuesday morning.
Around the carnival, staple games such a ring toss and basketball throw were set up, with countless other activities. Children were able to win prizes, enjoy sweet treats and get caricature’s by an attending artist.
Polay, who was a congregant at Temple Israel before the merger with Beth Ohr, told the Herald, that many years ago, after her husband died, the men’s club at the temple wanted to do something in his honor, and raised $20,000. The carnival has take place every year since, in Mel’s name.
Purim is often celebrated by dressing in costume, evident around the carnival. To those unfamiliar with the holiday, it somewhat resembles Halloween. But costumes are worn for a couple of reasons, Diamond explained at last year’s carnival.
“God is not present in all of the Purim story, whereas in the books of the Bible, God is present,” he said. “Many Jews, they dress up and they hide their faces on Purim because of that. Another explanation is that the Jews would dress up and pretend they weren’t Jews, so they wouldn’t be killed.”
“It’s a fun day — a day to party,” Joseph Weisbord, Congregation Beth Ohr’s president said last year. “We just want everyone to have a fun time, and we are very happy to have the community participate in this celebration.”