The celebration of Purim is one of the most joyful holidays in the Jewish calendar. It celebrates a time in ancient Persia when the annihilation of the Jews was ordered by the king at the request of his Prime Minister Haman, but they were saved by the intervention of the beautiful Queen Esther.
The story is called the Megillat (the book of Esther) and is read in its entirety during the celebration.
It begins with the king appointing Haman, the richest man in the kingdom, as his Prime Minister. Haman’s inflated ego demands everyone bow before him but Mordechai, Esther’s cousin refuses. “I bow only to God,” he says. An enraged Haman orders gallows built on which he intends to hang Mordechai and prevails on the king to exterminate the Jews who, Haman convinces the king, plan to take over his kingdom.
The king had his wife executed for refusing to obey his orders to come and dance at a party, but loneliness compelled him to find another queen and he settled on the beautiful Esther, Mordechai’s cousin. He cautions his cousin Esther not to reveal her true identity. However, when Mordechai hears of Haman’s plans to exterminate all Jews he persuades Esther to approach the king to intervene even though approaching the king without being invited is a death sentence. She sets up a feast and invites the king, informs him she is a Jew and tells the king of Haman’s order to exterminate all Jews. The king can’t refuse his beautiful queen, has Haman hanged on the gallows built for Mordechai, and appoints Mordechai as his Prime Minister and the Jews are saved.
When the story is read, children and adults, jeer, blow on noisemakers, shake rattles and generally drown out the mention of Haman’s name. Costumes are worn by many celebrants to show their joy and as an expression that situations can change.
Special songs are sung, usually by the children, and a variety of special foods and dainties, including Hamentaschen (stuffed cookies in the form of a three-cornered hat said to symbolize that worn by the prime minister.) There is an open bar and adults are encouraged to drink their fill, although the celebrants don’t take this literally.
Prizes are awarded for costumes, and the party at Beth Jacob Synagogue featured games and a Dino bouncer set up in the adjacent gym. To share their joy, Jews are encouraged to donate money to the poor and send gifts of food to friends and relatives.
Synagogue staff said the crowd was the largest they had seen in many years. “We’ve been working on that,” said Rabbi Jeremy Parnes.