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August 27, 2014
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The story of Purim—who knew?


We all know it’s just around the corner—but I’m still looking for signs of spring at every turn. There are so many celebrations and traditions connected to the change of seasons... some familiar and others that conjured up memories skewed by time, with a twist.

When I was a child, spring was the great lead-in to summer vacation and the countdown to the end of school. Sunday school was no exception, and springtime ushers in the “fun” Jewish holiday, Purim, touted as one of the most joyous celebrations in the Jewish calendar. It’s been a while since I celebrated and my facts and figures were lacking, so quite naturally, I took to surfing the web to get them straight.

According to www.holidays.net, “The name of the holiday (Purim is the Hebrew word for “lots”) refers to the plot of the King’s advisor Haman, to draw lots for which Jews to kill first. Queen Esther saved the Jewish people from the evil Haman’s ‘lots’ plot by revealing it to the king.”

To the best of my recollection, there were noisemakers, costumes, pastries and a grand story of Good vs. Evil, but apparently I have forgotten about the details—another historical attempt to wipe the poor Jews off the planet. I do recall readings from “The Book of Esther,” which is traditionally read twice during the festivities, once at night and again the next day, and that the holiday usually rolled around sometime near the vernal equinox.

As kids, there were parties, costume parades and the retelling of the story, replete with hisses, boos and the requisite noisemakers (graggers) that would fill the air every time the evil Haman’s name was mentioned. Adults celebrated as well, but in a vastly different way, more in keeping (IMHO) with St Patrick’s Day. According to the website, Purim is “so joyous, in fact, that rabbis have actually commanded adults to get drunk” on the holiday.

News to me, but worthy of investigation, so I read on. “You might think that the origin of this practically pagan-sounding ritual is fundamentally hedonistic; however, both ancient and modern Jewish sources cite a rather esoteric explanation for drinking on Purim: Alcohol sublimates rational thoughts and precludes inhibitions.”

That much I knew, but still wasn’t making the connection of actually encouraging combining cocktails and making noise, so I continued my search. Naturally, enlightened educators downplay this tradition, especially among underage revelers, so I searched for deeper meaning.

“The advantage of the altered state is that the drinker is truly humbled once they are stripped of their intellectual cynicism. With alcohol in their system, drunken Purim partiers are paradoxically enabled to appreciate that only a higher power can truly discern between good and bad.”

I even cruised one site that pronounced “drink till you drop” as the official mantra of Purim, replete with rationale.

Sunday, March 20 is the day. At precisely 7:21 p.m. (EST) the sun will cross directly over the Earth’s equator. This moment is known as the equinox, which means “equal night,” because day and night are about equal in length all over the world during this period. Infoplease.com informs that “there is no shortage of rituals and traditions surrounding the coming of spring” and that “early peoples celebrated for the basic reason that their food supplies would soon be restored.”

The great Sphinx points directly to the rising sun that same day. Nowruz, the Persian New Year, begins. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the equinox—but before that, I’ll be lifting a glass, making noise and shaking my fist at the dastardly villain Haman, while dressing up and hitting the streets of Monticello, desperately searching for a party to crash.

Having no shortage of food (thankfully), I need to stock the bar, invite a few friends over and make sure that they know that “the rabbi made me do it” before getting the party going. I’m looking forward to the delicious Hamantaschen, shaped like the tri-cornered hat that bad-boy Haman sported back in the day, while plotting to kill the heroes of yet another cautionary tale. I’m looking forward to telling my neighbors that yelling and screaming in the streets is “a commandment” and starting a new tradition, under the guise of “just doing my part” to spread the joy.