Thursday, March 01, 2012

Cops and brides are Purim’s hottest costumes 

Forget ghosts and witches — the most popular costumes for this year's Hasidic Halloween are cops and brides.

Williamsburg's Orthodox Jews will celebrate Purim next Thursday by attending synagogue, raising money for religious schools, baking kosher cookies, and — most importantly for the kids — wearing colorful costumes.

For the past week, a stream of Satmar families clothed in black wool suits and skirts have mobbed the neighborhood's toy stores, eager to pick out the perfect gowns and uniforms for their children.

And Lee Avenue's Toys 4 U, which has branches in Williamsburg and Borough Park, is at the center of the scrum.

"It's a happy holiday — children get presents and collect money for charity," said Toys 4 U proprietor Joseph Itzkowitz, who isn't picky when it comes to costumes. "Whatever costume parents buy, that's my favorite," he said.

The religious holiday commemorates Queen Esther's victory over King Ahasuerus's vengeful court advisor, Haman, and the deliverance of the Jews from fourth century Persia.

Its masquerades resemble Halloween, and Jews throughout the world have used the occasion of their deliverance to dress up in fun — and sometimes racy — outfits and party into the small hours.

But unlike secular and modern Orthodox Jews, Hasidic youth dress in more conservative costumes, like cops and brides.

Law enforcement and weddings aren't the only popular themes — some revelers find inspiration in history.

"The story of Purim is about princesses and kings," said United Jewish Organizations director David Niederman. "This is a way for kids to understand the story of Purim and participate."

That explains another of the year's top sellers: princess dresses.

"Everybody wants to be a princess and dreams about being a queen," said Miriam Itzkowitz, of Toys 4 U. "One day, she can be a princess."

Boys reached for military camouflage, black rabbi frocks, and, most often, police uniforms.

"They see police on the street, there are a lot of them, and they know who they are," said Joseph Itzkowitz.

Families with toddlers were aiming for all things sweet, grabbing adorable strawberry, apple, and honeybee costumes.

For older kids, the holiday has less to do with costumes than community service.

Many unmarried teenage boys will spend Purim driving around Williamsburg with rented RVs, trying to raise cash for their yeshivas. And unmarried young girls often walk door-to-door with their parents to raise money and hand out pastries called hamentaschen, stuffed cabbage, and other treats.

That said, most do their charitable works while wearing colorful wigs and clown-like get-ups.

"I'm going to wear something very different, very colorful," said Tzvi Lazar, who was helping families pick out costumes for their children at Toys 4 U. "I'll have white and pink pants, an orange shirt, and rainbow socks."

For Hasidic parents, the holiday is a joyous one — and a subtle reminder that their children are growing older.

"My son, who is 2-and-a-half, is going to be a rebbe, and my 4-year-old daughter is going to be a bride, with a fancy bridal gown," said Williamsburg resident David Gross. "Last year she was a strawberry shortcake."


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