Thursday, February 7, 2013

Happy Purim!

If all goes as planned - that is, I don't get derailed, by bad weather, leaving DC, then I will land in Israel on Purim. Fingers crossed I will be there because I really do want to experience Purim and in Israel nonetheless!


The festival of Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar (late winter/early spring). In Jerusalem which celebrates on the 15th of Adar.  In cities that were protected by a surrounding wall at the time of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month on what is known as Shushan Purim, since fighting in the walled city of Shushan continued through the 14th. Today, only Jerusalem celebrates Purim on the 15th. This year, Purim will begin at sundown on February 23th til sundown February 24th; Shushan Purim will begin on sundown on February 24th til sundown February 25th.

Purim commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from Haman’s plot “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day.”

The story of Purim, in a nutshell, as described on chabad.org:
The Persian empire of the 4th century BC extended over 127 lands, and all the Jews were its subjects. When King Ahasuerus had his wife, Queen Vashti, executed for failing to follow his orders, he orchestrated a beauty pageant to find a new queen. A Jewish girl, Esther, found favor in his eyes and became the new queen—though she refused to divulge the identity of her nationality.

Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic Haman was appointed prime minister of the empire. Mordechai, the leader of the Jews (and Esther’s cousin), defied the king’s orders and refused to bow to Haman. Haman was incensed and convinced the king to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar—a date chosen by a lottery Haman made.

Mordechai galvanized all the Jews, convincing them to repent, fast and pray to G‑d. Meanwhile, Esther asked the king and Haman to join her for a feast. At the feast, Esther revealed to the king her Jewish identity. Haman was hanged, Mordechai was appointed prime minister in his stead, and a new decree was issued—granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.

On the 13th of Adar the Jews mobilized and killed many of their enemies. On the 14th of Adar they rested and celebrated.
On Purim, it is tradition to do the following four rituals:

Listen to the Megillah
Megillah (Image from stonybrookhillel.org)
To relive the miraculous events of Purim, listen to the reading of the Megillah, which is the scroll containing the biblical narrative of the Book of Esther.  It is customary to listen to a live reading of the Megillah so off the synagogues Jews go.  The Megillah is listened to twice - once on Purim eve and once on Purim day.  I read somewhere that it takes about 25-30 minutes to go through one reading. 

A gragger
At certain points in the reading where Haman’s name is mentioned, it is tradition to twirl graggers (Purim noisemakers) and stamp one’s feet to “eradicate” his evil name.

 I would be curious to just witness a reading but I don't know if I will be allowed to enter the synagogue or not. I'll find out when I get to Jerusalem.
  
Give to the Needy
I think it's important to give to charity all year around.  I contribute, every month, by cooking a dinner dish for the women's shelter that the IMF supports.  I also donate to other charities throughout the year.

On Purim, the tradition is to give charity to at least two (but preferably more) needy individuals on Purim day.  It's preferred that the donation be given directly to the needy but if you cannot find poor people to give two, then place at least two coins into a charity box.

Send Food Portions to Friends
For Purim, the tradition is to emphasize the importance of Jewish unity and friendship by sending gifts of food to friends.  I like this tradition.  You basically get to exchange food and from the images I see on Google, this translates into giving out food baskets!

On Purim day, it is tradition to send a gift of at least two kinds of ready-to-eat foods (e.g., pastry, fruit, beverage) to at least one friend. Men should send to men and women to women. It is preferable that the gifts be delivered via a third party.

My friend Ian, who is Jewish, told me that Purim is a very joyous holiday - one that involves a feast and lots and lots of sweets!  Purim should be celebrated with a special festive meal on Purim day, at which family and friends gather together to rejoice in the Purim spirit.  This is the one day to not only drink alcohol but to overindulge in spirits.  I hope I don't encounter a lot drunk folks everywhere - that would definitely kill the festive spirit for me!

Image from alphamom.com
Like many a holiday, Purim has its customs; the two most common ones are masquerades and hamantashen.

Masks & Costumes

A time-honored Purim custom is for people to dress up and wear masks  to commemorate that fact, as recorded in the Megillah that after the Jews got the upper hand, many of the local non-Jews dressed up as Jews in the hope of escaping punishment.

Hamantashen
The most common food associated with Purim is hamantaschen, a triangular shaped cooked made with many different fillings, including poppy seed which is the most traditional variety.  Fruit preserves like apricot, apple, cherry, prune as well as nuts, dates chocolate, and even cheese are common fillings. They all sound good - I intend to try a variety!  Good excuse to hit up a bakery in Old Jerusalem.  Can't get more authentic than that!

There are multiple stories about how the name of the cookie came to be.  One is that the name "hamantash"  is reference to Haman, the villain of Purim, as described in the Book of Esther. The pastries are supposed to symbolize the defeated enemy of the Jewish people, and thus resemble the "ears of Haman".  Another folk story is that Haman wore a three-cornered hat ---thus the shape.

I am very lucky that my trip coincides with Purim.  If I'm even luckier, I'll get to somehow participate in the celebrations rather than just being a bystander.  If that doesn't work out, I know there will be a really, really good dinner waiting for me!