Community bakes for Purim

Community bakes for Purim

Elena and Ben Davis prepare to make hamantaschen.
Photo by Adam Reinherz
Elena and Ben Davis prepare to make hamantaschen. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Amazingly, the jelly-filled hamantaschen might not have been the sweetest part of Sunday’s communal pre-Purim baking event. Surrounded by crafts, games, jugglers and other performers, children and families from across Pittsburgh gathered at Congregation Beth Shalom in Squirrel Hill last week to partake in the Kids’ Mega Hamantash event.

The goal is to “bring children from all parts of the Jewish community together for an afternoon of joy and unity,” said Chani Altein, of Chabad of Pittsburgh.

From the sounds, sights and smells emanating from the pre-Purim affair, that mission was clearly accomplished.

Before a mixing bowl was even noticed, the nearly 300 participants partook in a joint sing-along led by Rabbi Oren Levy of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh. Midway through a slower number, Levy asked the student singers where they study. The query promoted school pride, as representatives clapped loudly and shouted out the names of their institutions: The Ellis School, Winchester Thurston Academy, Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, Yeshiva Schools, Community Day School, Falk Laboratory School, Environmental Charter School, Colfax and Shady Side Academy.

Part of what makes the event great is that there are students from so many of the local schools, said Lauren Baldel, a volunteer who helped set up the Shushan Palace, a 10-foot-high temporary dwelling located immediately outside of the congregation’s social hall.

The makeshift castle, which was supposed to represent the home of King Achashverosh (the ruler in the biblical Purim story), was large enough to fit nearly 30 people comfortably and included such details as a Persian rug to stand or sit on, goblets for drinking and fake grapes to admire. “That palace is impressive for the creativity and level of effort that it required. Clearly a small army spent a lot of time putting this together,” said Adam Pollak, of Squirrel Hill, after observing the temporary chateau. But apart from songs and symbolic residences, the March 5 function was about sharing joy with others, said Altein. In addition to making hamantaschen for personal consumption, participants donated 250 of the jelly-filled treats to the Jewish Relief Agency.

Because so much emphasis is placed on benefiting children and supporting the community, “I always help out,” said Chantal Belman, one of 25 adult volunteers. “It’s good to help your community when it needs it,” echoed Maya Davis, one of 75 teen volunteers.

Included throughout the two-hour party were ample educational opportunities. Part of the program’s purpose was to “learn the various mitzvos about Purim,” said Rabbi Yisrael Altein, of Chabad of Pittsburgh. Promoting that particular objective was a whimsical puppet-led video. Broadcast on a large screen within the social hall, a spirited cloth creation explained that there are “four special mitzvot of Purim.” Those commandments include: to hear the entire story from the Megillah twice, once at night and once during the day; to give money or food to poor people; to give gifts of food to friends; and to eat a festive meal. Incorporating educational and social offerings facilitated the program’s success on so many levels, said Elena Davis, of Squirrel Hill. “We know that Chani Altein’s events are always great and well-organized, and we liked that it was for the whole family.”

Also praising the event was Carolyn Slayton, a Shalom Pittsburgh associate. “This is just an awesome event before Purim that brings the entire community together,” she said.

Camp Gan Israel Fox Chapel, Community Day School, G2G, Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, PJ Library and Yeshiva Schools joined Shalom Pittsburgh in partnering on the event.

Added Slayton, “It’s just a ton of fun.”

Recipe courtesy of

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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