Children dressed as princesses, fairies, kings and dinosaurs flitted around Temple Emek Shalom's carnival Thursday night.

Although some of the costumes were Halloween leftovers, the occasion was a different sort all together &

the Jewish holiday Purim, celebrating the survival of the Jews under the reign of Ahasuerus in ancient Persia. Congregations around the Valley gathered to feast and be merry as they marked the occasion.

"It's a celebration of courage and honesty and goodness trumping evil," said Avara Yaron, the president of the temple. "It's also about unmasking human behavior. Behind the worst of the worst is a human soul."

During the festivities, Jews remember Queen Esther, who revealed her Jewish identity to her husband at great peril to herself to save her people and thwart the plans of Haman, a friend of the king who sought to annihilate all Jews.

After the carnival and snacks of hamantaschen, the traditional dessert that resembles the Haman's hat, Cantor Bella Feldman led the performance of Purimspiel, the annual retelling of the story of Esther.

This year, they followed a fifties theme, complete with vintage skirts and plenty of hair ribbons. Previous themes have included the Beatles, Disney, Elvis and Motown.

Focus on kids

Although the Purimspiel is a long-running tradition, this is only the second year the temple has hosted the children's carnival. Adults at the temple said it brings back memories of their own childhood, and they hope to recreate the same traditions for the next generation.

"We felt the need to focus on bringing back these family celebrations that serve to make memories and a positive Jewish identity," said Ellen Falkner, who helped plan the carnival and similar celebrations for Hanukkah and Israeli Independence Day.

Their plan seems to be working.

"I love that we're able to dress up and share some of the Jewish costumes, and I love being able to hear about Esther and what she did for our people," said Rayna Zohar, 11, who dressed as a princess for the evening. "Purim's just a fun holiday to remember our history and have a good time."

Going deeper

The holiday, while meant to be a joyous and silly time when even practical jokes are allowed, also has deeper meanings.

Yom Kippur, or Yom Kippurim, the holiest day of the Jewish year, means "a day like Purim," said Rabbi Marc Sirinsky. During Purim, Jews put masks on, and then take them off during Yom Kippurim as they look back over the past year, he said.

"Pure joy is not experienced enough in this world," Sirinsky said. "Purim is about pure joy. It's good for kids to see adults being silly and in costume."

Yaron described one deeper meaning of the holiday as mystical.

"We are encouraged to alter our perspective so we cannot see any difference between evil characters and the heroine of the story," she said. "In God, all is one. It's really about penetrating any separation we have between people."

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