By Mike Lauterborn

It's not every day that a gathering in a house of worship features congregants festooned in jester hats, crazy wigs and cowboy costumes.

But for the Jewish observance of Purim, it was all part of the celebration.

Wednesday at sundown, Congregation Ahavath Achim members, young and old, donned festive outfits for a reading in the sanctuary, then enjoyed homemade food and traditional Purim treats.

"The holiday of Purim recalls the story in the biblical Book of Esther in which the infamous Haman plots to destroy the Jewish people," explained Rabbi Mitch Rocklin. "The plot is foiled by Esther the Persian Queen and her cousin Mordecai."

Rocklin added, "The holiday involves two different emotions: gratitude for the ability to fight evil and joy for having been saved. There are four basic elements to the celebration: reading the Book of Esther, giving gifts to friends and neighbors, a festive meal and charity to the poor. The holiday is not a holiday if the needs of the poor are not taken care of."

To address the mission of helping others, cash and check donations, as well as baskets of food, are distributed by the congregation to the poor.

"The baskets are called mishloach manot and they are assembled by congregation members," said Susan Klein, vice president of the Ahavath Achim Sisterhood. "Thirty five volunteers put together 134 baskets, each of which includes a fruit-filled pastry called a hamantaschen. The hamantaschen are three-cornered, meant to be a reminder of the villain Haman in the Purim story, who wore a tri-corner hat."