On the scene: Photos from a pandemic Purim in Brooklyn
A ninja in moon boots. Rectangular brothers, a Rubix cube and washing machine. Many a princess. A few questionable Native American costumes, complete with feather headdress and brownface paint.
Purim fell on a warm and sunny day in New York City, after weeks of snow, and the kids were out in force in the Haredi neighborhoods of Borough Park and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, distributing mishloach manot goodie bags and collecting candy, toys and often cold, hard cash.
While many Jews celebrated this Purim online or in small, distanced celebrations for the second time since the pandemic began last March, the Haredi neighborhoods of Brooklyn did not change their celebrations much. Masks were rare, even though costumes could provide an easy excuse for them, and groups popped in and out of each other’s houses freely. Still, there were no major gatherings and, while the sidewalks were heavily trafficked, it was not shoulder to shoulder anywhere. Cars and trucks blasting festive music kept it moving so large crowds didn’t form around them.
On Friday morning, the streets of Borough Park were quiet, with most of the traffic coming from men returning from morning prayers clutching their tefillin bags. But as the day grew warmer, the streets filled with costumed kids. They were sometimes escorted by uncostumed parents, but more often running around in unchaperoned packs, or careening down the streets on scooters to knock on doors and exchange goodies.
The girls tended to be dressed as princesses or brides, with long, fluffy skirts of lace or taffeta, though there was also a Pippi Longstocking and a Madeline. The boys leaned toward pirates and kings and lions; some donned beards and payot, curly sidelocks, to dress up like their dad or rabbi. The teenagers, as is so often the case with teens, put on a disaffected act, usually wearing a sequined hat at most. A few old women, asking for charity, had sizable amounts of cash in hand by midday.
Effigies of Haman, the villain of the Purim story, hung from gallows could also be seen scattered through the neighborhood. A few cars had crude scarecrow-like figures hung from their trunks, and one house had a full sized gallows jutting from their roof, dangling a mannequin by its neck.
Purim is usually a rowdy holiday, centered around drinking and costumes, but Borough Park was calm; a car with a bubble machine strapped to its roof was perhaps the wildest attraction. But to the north, in Crown Heights, the atmosphere was a different story; Chabad, the Hasidic sect that dominates that neighborhood, knows how to throw down.
There, the streets were mobbed with parents, kids and teenagers alike running around, everyone shouting across the street at each other. A caravan of Chabad trucks with screens on their sides, playing videos of rabbis, followed a float with a DJ blasting pop music into the streets.
Crown heights is bumping for Purim, as always Chabad knows how to throw down pic.twitter.com/sK0w6VNikd
— Mira Fox (@miraefox) February 26, 2021
Off Kingston Avenue, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, a teen girl dressed as a bottle of Heinz yellow mustard was serving up free cotton candy out of a fairly industrial-looking machine as a stilts walker twirled on the street. Another girl, dressed as Billie Eilish, green hair and all, strolled by; Chabad is much more outward facing and less reclusive than most Hasidic sects, and pop culture made a greater appearance in the costumes.
Because Purim fell on a Friday this year, festivities must wrap up early in order to prepare for Shabbat. Even though the virus didn’t curtail the party, Purim couldn’t escape this pandemic year unscathed.
Paul Stremple is a documentary photographer and journalist based in New York City. See more of his work on Instagram @paulstremple.