Children sat on a floor Sunday morning at Chabad Lubavitch of Westport, some wearing colorful wigs, one dressed as Batman and another as a pirate, spinning noisemakers as they listened to a 2,000-year-old story before three men entertained with a Jewish bottle dance.
They were celebrating Purim, the "most festive" holiday on the Jewish calendar, Rabbi Yehuda Kantor said. The costumes represented the difficulty in seeing God, he said. The petting zoo on astro turf and the table for painting Babushka dolls, he said, helped represent a Shtetl, or village.
Kantor and Mordy Dinerman, a friend from Brooklyn, read the Megillah -- a tale he said is from ancient Persia and written in the Bible's book of Esther -- to the 40 to 50 children on hand.
"It's the story of a `180,' " Kantor said. "Whatever was decreed upon the Jews ended up happening to those that were plotting against the Jews. So the theme of the day really is to turn things upside down. So you never despair. This is a very strong message of never despairing, because even if it looks lost, you trust and pray to God, you turn to God and then it can really come out the other way around.
"Part of the reason we get dressed is for joy" he explained. "But the other thing is there is sort of a subvert message over here. God is involved in everything, but not always is it revealed. So dressing is sort of concealing your identity, but God is behind everything. So even though you don't always, you see the hand of God. God really is in everything; it's very much in the festival of Purim."
The Chabad has been at 79 Newtown Turnpike for a year and a half, Kantor said. It's made a mark in Westport, Chabad member Mark Soboslai said.
"They have transformed the community with their energy," he said. "It's quite an amazing accomplishment, what they have accomplished in a short time."
With "persistence and dedication," Kantor and his wife have changed the community "from something that wasn't here to something that is vibrantly here," Soboslai said.
Jonathan Greenfield and his wife, Iris, brought three children to the event.
"They're all about acceptance of everybody, so I have always connected with them," he said of the Chabad. "This is what we consider our spiritual community here in Westport. They're awesome."
The noisemakers used during the Megillah reading coincided with mentioning the name of the oppressor Haman, Dinerman said.
"We boo him," he said. "Throughout the millennia there has been a tradition that has developed of a noisemaker. It's just a tradition of one way of making noise."
Traditions for the holiday also include taking care of needy people and bringing food baskets to friends.
"The concept is that a real celebration has to incorporate helping someone else," Kantor said. "If you are only celebrating yourself it means you are having a personal celebration, but if you are reaching out, it means that you are celebrating as a community, as a society, as a people."