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Dressing up, eating sweets and giving back are all part of Purim celebration in New York City

Dressing up, eating sweets are part of Purim celebration in Jersey City
Dressing up, eating sweets are part of Purim celebration in Jersey City 02:33

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- The Jewish holiday of Purim begins Monday at sundown.

It commemorates the ancient story of Queen Esther, who saved the Jewish people from destruction.

As CBS2 found out, dressing up, eating sweets and giving back are all part of the celebration.

From parodies of Billy Joel songs to musicals like "Mamma Mia," for more than three decades the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on West 68th Street has been telling the story of Purim through its annual "Purim Spiel."

It's a tradition started by a congregant.

"This all started back in 1987 with Norman Roth. It's hilarious. It's commentary of current events," Cantor Dan Singer said.

"This year's theme is the music of Stephen Sondheim. It's called 'Into the Woods,' a shpiel megillah," congregant Eileen Remor said. "Esther is Little Red Riding Hood."

A "shpiel" means a play in Yiddish, and Esther refers to Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story.

"Purim is a holiday that celebrates the Jews having been saved from destruction. The evil Haman had plotted to kill all of the Jews," Rabbi Dalia Samansky said. "Esther became the queen having hid her Judaism. She decided to reveal her Judaism to the king when the Jewish people were facing destruction."

People often dress in costume to hear the story, also known as a megillah reading.

Community members of all faiths are invited to listen.

"We actually give treats of juice and sweets to our friends and family," Samansky said.

A big component of the holiday is giving back and the Hamantaschen, or triangle cookies, have something to do with that.

"The one we donate to the most is 'Welcome Home Jersey City,' and they help refugees when they get here with housing, with education, whatever they need," said Michal Prevor, founder and baker for Babka Bailout.

Hamantaschen are said to be in the shape of evil Haman's hat or ear, and at Babka Bailout in Jersey City, owner Prevor makes it meaningful and fun. This year, she has created dark chocolate with Nutella cookies, and white chocolate with dulce de leche.

"We offer guava and dulce de leche," Prevor said.

Traditional flavors like poppy and dates and nuts are also on the menu. Breads Bakery in New York City even has a pizza flavor.

They are all creative ways to cultivate Jewish heritage and be proud of Jewish identity, just like Queen Esther was when she saved the Jews.

The holiday goes until sundown on Tuesday. 

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