Need a Purim costume? Go to the gemach.


While COVID-related restrictions may put a damper on large gatherings for Purim, it won’t stop anyone who wants to from dressing up for the holiday. And Bracha Orlansky is ready.

The Kemp Mill resident manages the Purim costume gemach, where Jews can go to borrow a costume at no charge and return it after the holiday. Purim begins at sundown on Feb. 25.

The stockpile of costumes fills most of her basement; a hoard of hundreds of garments and accessories.

“Purim is going to be so different this year with all the restrictions,” Orlansky said. “But I think we’re going to try to make the most of it and really get into the spirit.”

Orlansky said she loans out around 300 costume pieces a year from her gemach. The word is an acronym for the Hebrew “gemilut chasadim,” or acts of kindness. She said she doesn’t know yet whether the pandemic will increase or dry up demand.

Borrowers have the option of picking up their costumes from her front porch. Her front hall is already crowded with costumes in bags, waiting to be picked up. But people can make an appointment to look through the costumes in her basement, as long as they’re wearing masks.

There are two types of Purim costume borrowers, she said — those who want to browse through the costumes looking for inspiration, and those who know exactly what they want. Kings and queens are popular with people who want a Purim-themed wardrobe. So is Mordechai, Queen Esther’s righteous cousin. But borrowers beware: Orlansky only has one fake beard to loan.

Orlansky said firefighters, policemen and superheroes are always in demand. Batman and Superman are popular choices, but every so often she’ll get a request for a more obscure crime fighter.

“I am not familiar with all the latest superheroes,” Orlansky confessed. “Every now and then people will ask me, ‘Do you have Ant-Man?’ And I’m like, ‘Gosh, I don’t know.’ And I have to Google it.”

Orlansky works as a data analyst and is a member of both Ohr HaTorah and Young Israel Shomrai Emunah synagogues in Silver Spring. She took over the Purim gemach in 2012 from a person who ran a children’s clothing gemach and wanted to offload their costume selection. Orlansky volunteered to give the costumes a new home.

“It’s a way to help people,” Orlansky said of her gemach. “Any holiday requires lots of preparation, and therefore stress. And this is just one way to reduce that a little bit.”

The gemach is also a way of reusing and recycling the costumes. Every now and then she’ll comb through the collection and discard the items that go unused, but the gemach continues to grow as about 100 items are donated each year.

Orlansky’s 8-year-old daughter, Racheli, gets first pick of the lot. This year, she’ll dress as Mama Rachel — Rachel the Matriarch — on erev Purim and as a corn stalk the next day.

Orlansky said she is happy to provide this service to the Jewish community.

“As long as people are happy that I’m doing it,” she said, “and as long as I have space.”

For information, email [email protected] or call 301-842-7135 x 726

[email protected]

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