Fulham Street in Kemp Mill is a quiet residential side street like any other in this suburban neighborhood of Silver Spring, Maryland. Traffic is light, and greenery is in abundance. The street’s lovely split-level and colonial-style homes have modest backyards, many of them littered with toys and other evidence of the families with young children who call this block home.
But each year, on Purim day, this quiet side street comes to life in an incredible way. Neighbors call it “Purim on Fulham,” a block-wide Purim carnival open to friends and neighbors from around the Silver Spring community. Fulham residents from an array of different shuls, schools and stages in life come together to offer fresh popcorn and cotton candy, a moon bounce, petting zoo and carnival games galore to the greater Jewish community.
“It is beautiful to see how Purim on Fulham brings the whole block together,” says Rachel Cattan, whose family runs the face-painting booth and the moon bounce. Her neighbors agree that their block festival is a unique combination of unity and family fun. “It’s a beautiful show of achdus [unity],” says Amy Sukol, hostess of the popcorn popping and music booths. “Our kids absolutely love it,” adds Debbie Cohn, whose family hosts the cookie decorating station.
How It All Began
The annual Purim block carnival is the brainchild of Rachel Ravin, proprietress of the cotton candy machine and basketball toss game. When she and her family moved onto Fulham Street several years ago, they were thrilled to finally have so many frum [religious] neighbors. “We used to live in another community,” she explains, “where we were really far away from other frum families. We moved to Kemp Mill and, for me, one of the most exciting things was being on a block filled with Orthodox Jews.”
Rachel thought it would be fun to bring all the families together for a street carnival on the block. She ran her kernel of an idea by another neighbor, who loved it. With this encouragement, Rachel then sent an email to others on her block, proposing the idea of a Purim block carnival and inviting them to join her for a meeting around her dining room table where further plans could be developed.
The response was overwhelmingly encouraging. “From the beginning, families of all ages were interested in participating,” she remembers. Families with young children were excited for their own children’s sakes, while those with grown children were happy to participate for the benefit of the block.
Everyone at that initial meeting picked how they wanted to contribute to the carnival. “I said from the beginning that I love cotton candy and this is my excuse to have a cotton candy machine,” Rachel laughs. “Other than that, everything was fair game.” One neighbor chose to host the moon bounce and a lollipop farm. Another family, who especially loves music, offered to serenade the block with Purim tunes, and to borrow a popcorn machine to distribute freshly popped snacks at the booth they dubbed, “Pop ‘n’ Bop.”
The first annual Purim on Fulham proved to be a great success. Neighbors at each end of the block made signs listing which activities were offered at each house, and propped the signs up on cars parked at the corners. One neighbor also created annotated maps of the street, with a directory explaining which houses offered which activities.
Carnival booths were open from 11 o’clock in the morning until about one o’clock in the afternoon on Purim day to give host families a chance to deliver their own mishloach manot and still have sufficient time to prepare for the Purim seudah [meal]. Streams of happy children passed through that day, enjoying the music, games and fun Purim atmosphere.
Bringing the Block Together
As anticipated, the carnival has continued to serve as a unique bonding experience for residents of the block and for the greater Kemp Mill community. “It is beautiful to see how Purim on Fulham brings the whole block together, starting with the planning stage and throughout the day,” says Rachel Cattan. In the early years, details were hammered out at meetings over the Ravin family’s dining room table. In more recent years, details—such as who’s in, what booths they will operate, what to do if it rains or snows and other related decisions—are worked out in a series of group emails.
The carnival has also become an ideal way for new neighbors to get to know each other. “There was a family that moved in down the block whom we had never met before,” Rachel Ravin recalls. “My kids went there and came home raving about the face painting. Then that family came to our cotton candy booth and that’s how we met.”
Purim on Fulham— and the unity amongst Fulham’s residents— is so admired in the Kemp Mill community of Silver Spring that it is almost a selling point for houses that become available on the block. Recently a house on Fulham Street went on the market, and Rachel Ravin saw someone she knew looking at it. Her friend commented that the house needed a lot of work, but Rachel pointed out that Fulham Street is a great location. “I know,” her friend responded. “Purim on Fulham!”
Another neighbor recalls the time when her family was preparing to move into a house on the block. “People totally asked us what our booth was going to be before we even moved in,” says Emily Friedman. “And in fact, the folks who lived in our house before we moved here missed Purim on Fulham so much that I think they actually considered setting up a booth anyway.”
When Emily’s husband was an avel l[mourner] ast year, he was told not to participate in the block party in light of his aveilut [mourning]. The Zatman family, previous owners of their home who still lived nearby, offered to return to man the booth on his behalf. Though this also was not permitted, the Friedmans say it just goes to show how much the Zatmans missed being a part of the block party. In fact, Michael Zatman says that his family plans to return this Purim and set up a carnival game in the driveway of a family that will be out of town.
Fun for All Ages
While block unity is reason enough to organize and run Purim on Fulham, the main motivations for putting in the effort and resources to run the carnival each year are the happy faces of friends and neighbors of all ages who visit the carnival. “People usually drop off mishloach manot on Purim and they keep going,” Rachel points out. But Purim on Fulham encourages those friends and neighbors to stay and visit a little longer. “As long as people are coming by,” she says, “it is nice for them to stay, hang out and enjoy the holiday together.”
There’s no way to know exactly how many people visit the block on a given Purim day, but if the number of used cotton candy cones is any indicator, last year brought close to two hundred people to the block in only two hours.
The Fulham kids take turns manning their families’ booths, giving instructions about their particular carnival game, supervising the activity, helping younger children write their names on raffle tickets and more. Although, says Debbie Cohn, her kids much prefer to be running up and down the block enjoying the carnival fun at other homes too. “It’s really for the kids,” Rachel emphasizes. “They just love it.”
But it’s not only for the kids. People of all ages participate in the festivities. Rachel recalls when a woman in the community who is a grandmother many times over came to deliver mishloach manos and happened upon the Purim on Fulham fun. Rachel asked her if she wanted cotton candy and the woman replied that, yes, actually she would enjoy that. Says Rachel, “It’s great to be able to share the fun with all ages as we celebrate the holiday together.”
The children of Fulham Street are full of pride in their block, the unity and friendship displayed by one and all, and how they contribute to the greater community’s Purim celebrations. In fact, kids who live on Fulham are often heard telling each other, “We have the best block in Kemp Mill!”
This content was originally published in Binah Magazine and has been edited and reprinted here with the author’s permission.