In the light-filled atrium of Columbia's Long Reach High School, 8-year-old Jordan Baruch twirled 10 Hula-Hoops for 4 1/2 seconds as a disc jockey spun Jewish music.
After jumping on the Moonbounce, 6-year-old Jacob Lozinsky - dressed in a karate jacket - busily decorated a noisemaker. Meredith Grossman, 7, waited at the face-painting booth for her purple unicorn.
In an adjacent room, volunteer Caitlin Pomerantz - a.k.a. Raggedy Ann - explained the rules of "Queen Esther's Tightrope Walk" with mother, Lisa, as families ate kosher pizza and cotton candy.
This mix of intriguing games, costumes, food and frivolity delighted the estimated 600 people who attended the 11th annual Purim Carnival sponsored Sunday afternoon by the Jewish Federation in Howard County. The carnival is one of many local events that celebrated the festive Jewish holiday.
"People look forward to the carnival every year," said Roberta Greenstein, the federation's executive director. "We've been around long enough to have people who attended as children now bringing their own children. It's a real community program."
Purim, which was observed Monday evening through Tuesday evening, celebrates the victory of Persian Jews 2,300 years ago over King Ahasuerus's royal edict calling for their destruction. Set in Shushan, the plot was hatched by the evil prime minister, Haman, and foiled by Esther, the king's beautiful Jewish queen, with her uncle Mordechai.
Traditional observances include chanting the Purim story from the handwritten scroll called Megillat Esther during evening and morning services, as congregants drown out Haman's name with noisemakers.
Celebrants also exchange food packages, donate to charity, enjoy a festive dinner and eat hamantashen - three-corned fruit-filled pastries symbolic of Haman's three-cornered hat.
"It's a fun holiday," said Rabbi Hillel Baron of the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education in Columbia.
Funds from the carnival benefit local Jewish schools. School volunteers ran activities, while teens assisted at game booths. "The carnival gives children a sense of belonging in the community, and you get to see Jews from the county that you haven't seen in a long time," said Meredith's mother, Joan Grossman.
Calah Congregation celebrated Purim at its Shabbat service because the synagogue meets only two Fridays each month at Columbia's Owen Brown Interfaith Center.
"The kids had a lot of fun and it was meaningful to them," said Rabbi Herbert Kumin. "That the end of tyrants is what they deserve, that Haman fell into the trap set by Mordechai and that bravery is to be applauded and encouraged."
Before Lubavitch's Purim evening service, children competed in a masquerade contest. Frolickers dressed as aliens, ninjas, Queen Esther, a policeman, cowboy, cat, "Meaningless Blob" and geisha girl. But they all received a prize. "Every contestant is a winner," Baron said.
Lubavitch also mailed 500 food baskets to donors, day school students and participants of the center's programs.
During the feast, congregants celebrated over spaghetti with meatballs and stir-fry chicken. Congregants also sang Purim songs from the music sheets that Rabbi Noah Golinkin had brought for several years with his son, Cantor Abe Golinkin. "It's the congregation's favorite holiday," Baron said.
Dressed as a clown, Baron passed a microphone around participants to tell jokes. "It was a riot," Baron said.
Joke tellers included Leon Malnik, who attended with his family. "The rabbi is a pretty good storyteller," Malnik said. "The mike got passed over to me and there I was in the spotlight."
At Columbia's Beth Shalom Congregation, evening prayers were sung to American folk songs and show tunes, accompanied by the Silly Symphony. The congregational orchestra - which includes an oboe, French horn, piano, jug and pennywhistles - was led by trumpet player and Washington Redskins Band member Howard Lessey.
"It was excellent this year," Rabbi Susan Grossman said. "They had a couple of rehearsals."
The megillah - the story of Esther - was chanted alternately Monday evening by the rabbi, Cantor Richard Walters and several congregants. On Tuesday morning, 100-year-old congregant Sol Milgrome read the megillah.
Children marched in a costume parade and were rewarded with chocolate from the rabbi. At every reference to "coin" in the megillah, Grossman also tossed chocolate coins to the congregation.
"I did it to keep the kids engaged, but I think some of the adults liked the chocolate, too," said Grossman.
Between the megillah's 10 chapters, the rabbi and cantor also presented a rhyming summary of the story's unfolding events. "Instead of `dooh dah, dooh dah,' we sang, `oy vey, oy vey,'" Grossman said.
The fun isn't over. Beth Shalom will present a Purim spoof fund-raiser, "Return of the Shushan Shenanigans," at 7:30 p.m. tomorow at Slayton House in Columbia. Tickets are $18 and include dessert.