Costumed queens, sweets, song, satire and Sloppy Joes were just part of the festivities at Columbia synagogues this week marking Purim, the Jewish holiday that encourages fun and revelry as part of the observance.
"This is the one where they encourage you to eat, drink and be merry," said Rabbi Mark Panoff of Temple Isaiah.
Purim, celebrated Monday evening through Tuesday evening, commemorates the victory of Persian Jews over a royal edict 2,300 years ago that called for their destruction. Initiated by the evil prime minister Haman, the plot was foiled by the beautiful Jewish queen, Esther, and her uncle, Mordechai.
Traditional festivities include the synagogue reading of the Purim story from the handwritten Hebrew scroll called Megillat Esther during evening and morning prayer services. At each recitation of Haman's name, congregants shake noisemakers to drown it out. Celebrants also exchange food packages, donate to charity, eat a festive dinner and feast on hamantashen - three-cornered, fruit-filled pastries symbolic of the three-cornered hat worn by the villainous Haman.
"We had the greatest time," said Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom Congregation. "It was a multiday experience."
Beth Shalom's revelry began with a puppet show of the Purim story presented Sunday by the Lion Tales puppeteers. On Purim evening, members of the national United Synagogue Youth dressed as masked cowboys and held the rabbi and Cantor Richard Walters for "ransom" in its fund-raising skit.
After a children's costume parade, the evening prayer service was sung to American folk songs and show tunes accompanied by the Silly Symphony, a congregational orchestra led by trumpet player and Washington Redskins Band member Howard Lessey.
Between the 10 megillah chapters, the rabbi and cantor presented a humorous poetic rendering of the story to the tune of "Arkansas Traveler" as the Silly Symphony played. After the service, congregants munched on "patriotic" hamantashen baked by the synagogue sisterhood with blue sprinkles and strawberry or cherry filling. The sisterhood also prepared patriotic-themed food packages in red and blue boxes lined with red, white and blue paper.
"We had a ball," said Suzy Wheeler, sisterhood president.
At Temple Isaiah, Panoff led a separate service for young families. After children marched in the costume parade, retired Cantor Richard Solomon read the megillah, enacting various parts by wearing different hats, including a Baltimore Orioles cap for Mordechai and a fur hat for Esther. "He hams it up," said Panoff, who dressed as a bearded Hasidic rabbi.
To end the noise made at each mention of Haman's name, Panoff hit the buzzer on a 3-foot-tall, painted wooden Haman doll, which made the villain's eyes light up and rang a bell. Later, adjunct Rabbi George Dreisen presented a Purim spiel, or play, performed by several congregants. After the service, participants noshed on hamantashen.
To kick off the holiday, the Jewish Federation of Howard County sponsored its 10th Purim carnival, attended by about 800 people Sunday at Long Reach High School. Volunteers from six Columbia Jewish schools staffed booths and ran activities, while teen-agers helped at the game booths. "We had a great turnout and great volunteer participation," said Roberta Greenstein, executive director.
Besides baking hamantashen, the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education sponsored a masquerade contest for about 60 children Purim evening. "Everybody won," said Rabbi Hillel Baron. Prizes, he said, went to two Snow Whites, some Mordechais, "a whole lot of Queen Esthers" and a green dragon. "This is my fourth year as a dragon," said Aharon Turpie.
The 10-year-old, who won a miniature chalkboard for his homemade costume, could not pinpoint what he liked best about the holiday. "It's all good," he said.
An animated Cantor Abe Golinkin read the megillah dramatically, while his father, Rabbi Noah Golinkin, narrated the story in English between chapters. Late Tuesday, Baron served up a Purim feast of Sloppy Joes and pasta for about 80 revelers.
The Lubavitch Center also delivered food packages to the Owen Brown Place apartment complex for senior citizens and mailed 500 to donors, day-school students and campers and participants of its various programs.
Congregant Miriam Rogers celebrated between night shifts as an emergency room nurse at Howard County General Hospital. The Columbia mother of four also prepared food packages with the rabbi's wife, Chani, and dressed her younger children in costume - two as Queen Esther and one as a cat.
"I'm tired," said Rogers. "But it's a good tired."