BUCHAREST, Romania – Romanian children put on costumes to join aging members of the country's small Jewish community for a Purim holiday service to celebrate the biblical account of the Jews' salvation from genocide in ancient Persia.
Some girls dressed up as princesses, fitting for an annual holiday in which one of the heroes is a clever and beautiful queen. One boy came as Spiderman. Other youngsters wore bright hats and vivid ties to mark the occasion.
While the mood was joyful at the synagogue, some elder men read from old scrolls, giving a solemn note to the Saturday celebration.
The children rehearsed songs for a performance that night at Bucharest's recently refurbished 19th century Coral Temple.
Purim commemorates the story of the Jewish people being saved from a 4th century B.C. Persian prime minister who planned to kill all the Jews but was thwarted by Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther, who had become queen of Persia.
Romania had a thriving community of 800,000 Jews before World War II. The country deported 150,000 Jews to concentration camps from 1942 to 1944, when the country was run by pro-Nazi dictator Ion Antonescu. Many Jews emigrated after the war.
There are an estimated 6,000 Jews living in Romania today, many of them elderly.
During the Purim celebration, people listened to a rabbi read from the Old Testament's Book of Esther, banging benches and whirring wooden rattles every time the name of the scheming prime minister Haman was uttered.
Participants exchanged presents, in keeping with the Purim custom of dedicating the day to feasting, rejoicing and making gifts to the poor.