An annual masquerade ball benefiting the non-profit Rainbow Center and the work it does for the LGBT community, Purim off Ponce promises a festive evening Feb.16.
Part of the Jewish Family & Career Services, the Rainbow Center has served the local LGBT community for 12 years. Purim Off Ponce – held every year to commemorate the Jewish holiday — is the largest annual fundraiser for the organization, which has grown in attendance every year.
Rebecca Stapel-Wax, program director of the center, promises a night full of fun, food and drink, and a diverse crowd ranging from 21 – 83, with a distinct LGBT slant. Patrons also tend to be both Jewish and non-Jewish.
“That is the essence of what Purim is supposed to be about,” Stapel-Wax says. “No difference between people and no judgment.”
Every year there is a “Purim off Ponce” theme and this year’s is “Paradise.” Many of the attendees will wear themed costumes, although it is not required.
For the first two years, the event was held at the nightclub Paris on Ponce, but since that time it has moved to another location: the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. Once known as Purim On Ponce, the event name changed with the venue.
Each year during the fundraiser the Rainmaker Award is given to someone who has given of themselves, either financially or from a volunteer basis, and done outside work as well, says Stapel-Wax. The 2013 recipient is 83-year-old Sylvia Gross, a community ally.
Gross is a longtime member of Congregation Bet Haverim, a synagogue serving the LGBT, Jewish community, led by openly gay Rabbi Joshua Lesser. When Gross’ son came out in the ‘70s, she supported him. And now she supports two grown gay grandsons as well.
“There are not many 83-year-olds who are as open, accepting and progressively thinking,” Wax said in a statement.
“With her delightful dancing, she has been the life of the party at every Purim Off Ponce since its inception in 2007. The Rainbow Center is thrilled to celebrate Sylvia’s life and the lives she has touched at Purim Off Ponce 2013.”
Among the entertainment line-up this year is the Mike Veal Band and Sadie Hawkins, an aerial artist who has created a Jewish star as her apparatus. The Armorettes will return this year as will the popular Dames A’Flame burlesque dancers.
“We are very excited about the entertainment,” she says. “The Armorettes have been doing this the last three to four years.”
Wax expects a crowd of more than 300 people at the event and is always encouraged to see new faces each season.
Purim is a Jewish holiday that stems from the story of Queen Esther. The queen was afraid to come out because she was Jewish but by doing so, she saved the fate of the Jewish people. Because of when the holiday takes place in 2013, the fundraiser is held earlier this season than in previous years.
Among the services that the Rainbow Center provides are anti-bullying and acceptance training. In 2012, the center reached more than 1,200 individuals. Much of their activity throughout the year involves outreach. Last year, for instance, Stapel-Wax helped spearhead a large presence at Atlanta Pride, working alongside 16 organizations in all.
Dealing with LGBT issues can be a struggle for those of any religion, but Stapel-Wax says being LGBT and Jewish can pose specific problems.
“Coming from a conservative perspective, there can be more difficulty in the resolution,” she says. “In terms of oppression, the Jewish community is not immune.”
Tickets to the event range from $36 to $50 in advance and $75 at the door. The event is for ages 21 and up only.
Top photo: Festive costumes are part of the fun as the annual Purim Off Ponce benefit for the Rainbow Center. (by Brent Corcoran/RNZ Photography)