Serious Fun

For weeks now, Merrill Alpert has been searching for the
perfect inflatable slide, the largest Ferris wheel and the flashiest ice cream
cart — all for her synagogue. Like event organizers at other temples in the
Southland, Alpert, Valley Beth Shalom’s (VBS) youth director and carnival
planner extraordinaire, feels that the joyous holiday of Purim is serious

Like many temple Purim carnivals, VBS’ annual event is both
a fundraiser and a community activity. On the fundraising side, $2,500 of the
proceeds will go directly to the youth group’s Tikkun Olam fund and any
remainder will go toward scholarships. While the VBS carnival is a grass-roots
effort, other local organizations, such as Temple Beth Am and Stephen S. Wise Temple,
expect their larger-scale carnivals to generate more revenue. Temple Beth Am
expects to rake in approximately $15,000, which will benefit its schools and
youth department.

No matter what the profit, most synagogue administrators
agree that the yearly celebrations are helpful morale boosters.

“People love [the Purim carnival] and the kids look forward
to it all year long,” said Susan Leider, principal of Pressman Academy Religious
School at Temple Beth Am.

Rabbi Marc Dworkin of Leo Baeck Temple believes that his
shul’s event reinforces a certain closeness within the congregation.

“It’s a community builder and it brings different
generations together,” Dworkin said.

While many synagogues elect carnival committees, the
teenagers in VBS’ United Synagogue Youth (USY) chapter traditionally put
together this annual event. As the organization’s administrator, Alpert has
organized the annual carnival for the last 18 years.

“The struggle is getting the manpower,” admitted Alpert, who
expects 150 USY volunteers at the carnival on Sunday, March 16.

In order to accommodate the expected 1,000 carnivalgoers,
Alpert needs all the USYers she can get.

Oraneet Orevi, 17, the USY chapter’s co-president, is one of
this year’s committed volunteers.

“Despite the fact that we’re teens, we have things very
well-organized,” said the Calabasas High School senior. Orevi, who dressed as a
cowgirl at last year’s carnival, said she hopes to work at the dunk booth again
this year.

“The water is freezing,” the teen said with a laugh, “but
it’s a lot of fun.”

In the meantime, Orevi and her friends are currently
creating posters and flyers in hopes of attracting more potential attendees.

Come Sunday, Orevi and the other volunteers are prepared to
sacrifice their weekend sleep to begin decorating the booths and setting up at
7:30 a.m., a good three and a half hours before the carnival begins.

Alpert will coordinate with food vendors like Subway, which
has been contracted out to make kosher hero sandwiches in the synagogue’s
kitchen. Another vendor will mass-produce slices of pizza.

While volunteering is hard work, Orevi said that investing
time in the carnival is a bonding experience for the students and helps VBS
become a close-knit community.

As the Purim countdown begins, Alpert still has a few
concerns. The carnival will be held in the synagogue parking lot, rain or

“If it’s raining, not as many people show up,” she said.

Luckily, generous congregants offer donations to underwrite
costs. But even a large sum of money could not replace the crown jewel of Purim
carnivals: an inflatable moon bounce. Unfortunately, the rental company from
which Alpert rented the coveted attraction last year went out of business.
Lucky for moon bounce fans, Alpert is determined to find another one.

As she prepares for a new shipment of carnival prizes, like
whoopee cushions, key chains, stuffed animals or whatever the game company
deems “trendy” this year, Alpert anticipates a successful and profitable carnival.

“It’s pretty much down to a science,” she said.

And if there is any doubt that her teen volunteers will come
through for her, Alpert’s got a plan. 

“At the end of the day, if we help clean up, Merrill treats
us to dinner,” Orevi confided.

In addition to the carnival, which runs from 11 a.m-3 p.m., there will be a Red Cross blood drive from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. 15739 Ventura
Blvd., Encino. For more information, call the VBS youth office at (818)
530-4025, or the temple office at (818) 788-6000.