Baruch Herndon is just 11 but Sunday he was dressed like a hippie from the '60s, complete with a black marker beard, for the Purim party at Chabad of Bakersfield.
Herndon loves the Jewish holiday of Purim because of the way Queen Esther risked her life to save the Jews of the 4th century BCE Persian empire from destruction.
"It shows me that even though things are pretty scary, you have to do what's right," Herndon said.
As detailed in the Book of Esther, read Sunday from a parchment megillah scroll by Rabbi Meir Gordon of New York, the story of Purim is celebrated as a miracle within nature, the deliverance of a people slated to be destroyed but for a series of miraculous connections and events that lead, instead, to the Jewish people triumphing over their enemies.
Of course, the food Sunday was good, too, and it had nothing to do with Persia: fried chicken, noodles and meatballs, salads and hamentashen, the triangle-shaped pastries with fillings.
And there was a clever Purim spiel by the Chabad Hebrew School -- "Who Stole the Groggers," featuring cameos by, among others, President Obama, former president Jimmy Carter, Pharoah of Egypt, King Antiochus, Sherlock Holmes and the culprit himself, Haman the Agagite -- plus music, a bounce house and singing.
Ruth Gelman, who's in her 90s, said she likes the holiday because it's in keeping with what she calls the Jewish theology of freedom.
"Our whole theology is about freedom," she said. "To be free of tyrants. Haman was a tyrant. The king (of Persia) was a tyrant. It's a great holiday because it's a reversal of fate."
But the kids love the holiday because it's just plain fun. It's traditional to drown out the name of Haman whenever it's mentioned in the megillah reading. This year, Chabad of Bakersfield Rabbi Shmuli Schlanger had a large roll of bubble wrap for kids to jump on.
Lee Cohen brought his wife and three children -- twins Nathan and Naya, both 6, and 4-year-old Noah -- and his in-laws from Terra Bella.
"Purim is one of their favorite holidays," he said of his children. Naya dressed up like Queen Esther, complete with a tiara, while the two boys were court chamberlains.
"They love that there's so much music and dancing," Cohen said. "They're still talking about last year."
Bruce Friedman, a professor of social work at Cal State Bakersfield, didn't come in a costume. It's not necessary to wear a costume, he said, in order to understand the essence of the holiday.
"There is rampant anti-Semitism throughout the world," he said. "Purim is really a remembrance to all of us that...we can't become so complacent in our lifestyle."