STARTING SUNSET SATURDAY, FEB. 23: On the 14th of the month of Adar in the Jewish calendar, hilarity reigns as the holiday of Purim is celebrated. One is commanded to drink enough liquor so that it becomes impossible to distinguish between the phrases “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mor- dechai.” In Hebrew these words become a tongue twister, so it doesn’t take much.
Today, we welcome author Debra Darvick, writing about Purim in her new book, This Jewish Life: Stories of Discovery, Connection and Joy. This holiday story is Debra’s introduction to the Purim section of her book.
NOTE: The holiday runs until sunset Sunday.
Children and uninhibited adults dress in costume; hamantaschen, triangular cookies dabbed with poppy seed, prune, apricot, or chocolate fillings, are enjoyed by the dozens. Friends and family give one another food baskets called mishloach manot, filling them with all sorts of goodies—hamantaschen, fruits, candy and the like. Joy and abandon reign. Giving to charity is also an important part of Purim.
The story of Purim is told in the Megillah, the Book of Esther. Esther, a Jewish maiden chosen by King Ahasuerus of Persia to be his queen, learns of a plot devised by the king’s viceroy, Haman, to kill all of Persia’s Jews. Esther’s uncle, Mordechai, initially urges her to conceal her identity. However, once she becomes queen and has the opportunity to save her people, Mordechai instructs Esther to tell the king the truth about her heritage. The new queen is reluctant to do so but ultimately reveals to the king not only her identity but the fact that his own viceroy plans to do away with her people. Haman is hanged on the gallows erected for Mordechai, who, earlier in the story, had incensed Haman by refusing to bow down to him.
Each time the name Haman is chanted during the public reading of the Megillah, cacophony erupts. Noisemakers called groggers are shaken to drown out the evil one’s name. Many communities perform Purim spiels, plays that reenact the story of Purim.