Howard's Jewish community comes together at Purim Palooza

More than 1,000 people gathered at Reservoir High School on March 9 for food, games and fun during the Jewish Federation of Howard County's 22nd annual Purim Palooza carnival.

Each year, the carnival brings together Jewish families of all denominations to celebrate Purim, a holiday commemorating a foiled plot to destroy all of the Jews in the ancient Persian Empire.

Meghann Schwartz, senior associate for campaigns and community engagement for the Jewish Federation of Howard County, said the federation organized the first Purim Palooza more than two decades ago to give all of the area's synagogues and Jewish organizations a place to celebrate Purim together.

Months of planning go into the carnival, she said, and more than 200 volunteers help out during the day.

"It's really a crazy event," Schwartz said. "It takes the whole community."

This year's Purim Palooza included a new kids activity expo, which featured exhibitors from summer camps and after school programs. Reservoir's main entrance was also lined with information tables for local synagogues and organizations.

In the atrium, deejay Doug Sandler and his team of dancers entertained groups of costume-clad children with music and a Hula-Hoop competition. Several games and arts and crafts tables were set up in the cafeteria, as well as a food station selling hamentashen, the triangular pastries that are a Purim staple.

Columbia resident Jennifer Goldberg said she appreciates how the Jewish community in Howard County collaborates to put on the carnival and celebrate Purim together.

"We enjoyed this event a lot," Goldberg said. "We've seen old friends, and we've met some new people."

Julia Steinberg, 9, Goldberg's daughter, attended the carnival for the second year in a row.

"I like Purim, and this is really fun," Steinberg said.

Jonathan Ganel-Constant, 9, of Columbia, came to Purim Palooza dressed as King Midas, wearing a gold crown and red cape. He participates in a Purim play in Hebrew school every year, but the carnival allows him to celebrate with a big appetite.

"I like all the candy and the hamentashens," he said.

Russ Stein brought his two daughters, ages 4 and 1, to the carnival as a fun way to learn more about Howard County's Jewish community, and he was surprised by the event's large turnout and numerous activities.

"It's more than I expected," Stein said. "I've never seen anything like this before."

'No plan to stop'

Schwartz said Purim Palooza is one of the Jewish Federation of Howard County's biggest annual events. The federation hosts programming for children and adults of all ages throughout the year, such as family-oriented events during Jewish holidays and various social and service groups.

The federation does not have a date for Purim Palooza 2015 yet, Schwartz said, but it is always held close to the week of Purim, which typically falls in late February or early March.

"It's one of our most successful community events, so there's no plan to stop it any time soon," Schwartz said.

At 22 years old, Purim Palooza now attracts a generation of parents who experienced it when they were children, Schwartz said.

Purim is one of the most fun Jewish holidays, she said, and the carnival has thrived over the years as a way to bring Jews throughout the community together to celebrate their faith.

"The carnival is pure fun," she said. "It's the place to be."

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