The Jews have had Purim, millennia before Carnivale festivals and masquerades became popular around the world.

By tradition, parties, costumes, games and gifts mark God's goodness — and the success of Queen Esther and Jewish leader Mordechai — in mobilizing the Jews of ancient Iran against annihilation by evil Prime Minister Haman.

By Rabbi Harry Manhoff's modern translation: "They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat!"

On Sunday, Manhoff was better known as "Rasta-rabbi," dressing in a Rastafarian dreadlocks wig, colorful knit cap, oversized sunglasses and black sateen bathrobe.

Adults and children all wore costumes Sunday at Congregation Shir Ami in Castro Valley, during the pre-Purim outdoor children's carnival co-hosted by Manhoff's Temple Beth Sholom of San Leandro.

The official, adult celebration of Purim begins at 7 p.m. today at Temple Beth Sholom, 642 Dolores Ave., San Leandro, where Manhoff pledged to wear an even more colorful costume.

The children's carnival, held annually for the past 40 years, combined a figurative bashing of Haman, games of chance, guaranteed prizes, and gift-making for friends and relatives.

Everyone sang a hymn of thanks to God while touching the braided bread known as challah, tapping each other on the arm or shoulder before feasting on the bread and traditional three-corner Hamantaschen cookies.

Spencer Blum, 14, of Hayward, was taking it on the kisser, sticking his head through a picture of Haman so younger children could pelt him with wet sponges.


"I volunteered," Blum said, his shoulders draped with towels. "When I was younger, we threw beanbags. I thought sponges would be more fun."

Hana Hartman, 15, of Castro Valley, and Katherine Kolden, 13, of Castro Valley, were among a dozen teenagers staffing game tables at the carnival. helping the 30 youngsters at the carnival attach Jewish symbols to smiley-faced balls used to pull zippers up and down.

Jan Dombrower, who teaches third- and fourth-grade classes at Shir AMI's Hebrew school, helped Nathan Tandowski, 11, of San Ramon, make a "mishloach manot" — Hebrew for Purim food basket — for his sister.

Nathan planned to put Hamantaschen cookies in the basket.

"One of the greatest treats I ever had was coming home one time (Purim) and finding a basket on my porch," Dombrower recalled.

"What a sugar high these kids will have tonight," joked Barbara Haber, a Congregation Shir Ami member and a convert to Judaism. She headed this year's "frolicking, rollicking carnival," and launched the event by reading from the book of Esther, contained in Hebrew scriptures, which is the basis of Purim.

Reach Karen Holzmeister at 510-293-2478 or