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From cows to kallahs
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From cows to kallahs

Highland Park lending program draws crowds in search of perfect Purim costume

Four-year-old Ari Stern dressed in his new costume. Photos by Debra Rubin
Four-year-old Ari Stern dressed in his new costume. Photos by Debra Rubin

The sound of mooing could be heard all around Congregation Ohav Emeth in Highland Park. 

No, the synagogue didn’t suddenly decide to establish a farm on its grounds. Rather, it was 4-year-old Ari Stern of Edison showing off the costume he plans to wear on Purim.

Ari and his mom, Rachel, came to the synagogue’s 10th annual Purim costume gemach, rummaging through about 1,000 costumes to find the perfect bovine outfit to borrow in celebration of Purim on March 12. (A gemach is a collection of donated items, often clothing, available for members of a community to borrow or keep.)

The costumes, ranging in sizes to fit small children through adults, were arranged on racks by gender, age, and category — from clowns and action heroes to pirates and princesses. There was attire for witches and nurses and lions and tigers. A table spanning almost the entire length of the room was stacked with piles of wigs, hats, beads, and other fun accessories to add the right touch to any costume.  

As she laughed at her mooing son, Rachel shrugged her shoulders and said Ari’s siblings decided they would all dress up as farmers, “but he wanted to be the cow.”

The Feb. 26 event was the first of four costume lending programs leading up to Purim. Others were held March 1 and 5, and another will be on March 7. For a $5 donation to the synagogue’s youth committee, community members can borrow a costume, and anyone who donates a costume to the collection may borrow another for free.

The gemach is the brainchild of Shari Gordon of Highland Park, who has served as co-organizer of the event with her husband, Michael, since its inception. All the costumes that have been collected over the years are stored during the year in the couple’s basement.

“It began when Shari and a couple of her friends said, ‘We have costumes in our basements. Let’s start a gemach,’” said Michael. At first there wereh 40 costumes, each one donated by members of the community. “We think it’s now one of the biggest gemachs in the area. There are some in Brooklyn and Teaneck, but we are one of the largest.”

Many of the hundreds who come from as far away as Lakewood and Passaic in search of the perfect getup are costume gemach regulars. The costumes are also available throughout the year for use in school plays, projects or parties. 

Michael, who was wearing a multi-colored flowing wig, looked around and said, “It’s like Purim already.” 

Glancing in the mirror, Nava Kornblum, 6, of Highland Park, admired the red ponytail wig and blue dress she will wear for her role as Dorothy in her family’s “Wizard of Oz”-themed holiday. Her mom, Michele, who is playing the Queen of Hearts, was unsuccessful in convincing Nava’s brother, also named Ari, to be the cowardly lion. 

“I’m going to be a soldier,” he said defiantly.

Yakira Titen, 6, of Edison, at the gemach with her parents, Bruce and Melissa, and three sisters, had picked out a long white dress that her father said made her look like a bride or princess.

“It could go either way,” he said, and the little girl was asked what she thought she looked like. Yakira was indignant at the question. 

“I’m a kallah [bride]. I was a princess last year,” she said.

“We’ve come for the last three years,” said Bruce. “We’ve traded in old costumes and gotten new costumes for our daughters.”

Lori Nagel of Highland Park, who was there with her husband, Walter, and son, Eli, 13, said that in addition to the costumes, she came “for the kibitzing.” She recalled her first gemach when the event first started. Eli chose a frog costume and refused to take it off. This year the family will don caps and gowns and go as graduates.

Keven Friedman of Highland Park came with his 10-year-old daughter Madeline.

“This is a beautiful event for the town because it brings people together from across the spectrum to get varied and interesting costumes,” he said.    

Madeline held up her waitress costume. Why a waitress? “Because I didn’t want to be a princess,” she answered incredulously.

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