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March 17: The Purim Ball

March 17, 2014
omeka-net-8933-archive-fullsize-ed6c4487f554ac2ddbe21f0b7cfe8943The new Purim Association, a society dedicated to mounting “social entertainments for charitable purposes,” held its first annual Purim Ball in New York City on this date in 1862, with 1,300 attendees. Taking place in an “elaborately festooned Irving Hall” (as described in City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York), the ball featured the Seventh Regiment Band playing “a wide variety of dances, including polkas, waltzes, quadrilles, and reels. The revelers came in costume, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, Hamlet, and Romeo, among others, though, interestingly, nobody dressed as characters from the Purim story.” The ball lasted until 4 a.m. and yielded tsedaka funds for the Jews’ Hospital and the Hebrew Benevolent Society. “In subsequent years, the balls grew larger and more lavish but also more closely tied to Purim themes. In 1866, for example, over three thousand people came to see the Academy of Music turned into a Persian temple . . .” The idea of using Purim for charitable extravaganzas spread to other cities where Jews lived, and New York’s Purim Association endured until 1902. “[S]everal young men gathered together to form The Purim Association — a benevolent society that would throw charitable Purim balls annually, for the next 40-odd years. The balls were . . . held at locations ranging from Metropolitan Opera House to Madison Square Garden, and the costume-clad attendees included members of New York’s most prominent Jewish families. The first ball cost $5 to attend . . . Between this first ball and 1902, the organization raised $180,000 — which it donated to a range of (mostly Jewish-run) charities located around the city.” —Purim, an Autonomous History