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Holidays: How to Celebrate the Jewish Holiday Purim

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Looking for a reason to celebrate now that Mardi Gras has passed and St. Patrick’s Day is weeks away? Look no further than the Jewish holiday, Purim, which commemorates the heroism of a great female figure in Jewish history. It is a holiday complete with a great story, celebrations, costumes and, of course, great food!

How to Celebrate Purim

Traditional Symbols of Purim

The Purim Story

In the fourth century B.C.E, the Persian King Achashverosh grew weary of his wife, Queen Vashti.  When she refused the king’s order to appear at a celebration and display her beauty for the guests, the king decided to dispose of his queen and find a new one by holding a beauty contest.

A Jewish girl, Esther, was identified as a possible candidate and sent to Shushan, the capital of Persia. She was accompanied by her Uncle Mordechai, who warned her not to disclose that she was, in fact, a Jew. Esther won the contest and married the Persian King.

After the wedding, Achashverosh promoted one of his advisors, Haman, as the new Prime Minister. Haman immediately issued a dictate that all citizens were to bow to him.  Upon encountering Mordechai, Haman demanded that the peasant pay him homage. Mordechai refused to bow for religious reasons causing Haman to become enraged.  In response to the perceived insult, the Prime Minister issued a royal edict: all Persian Jews were to be executed on the 13th of Adar.

Mordachai learned of a plot to assassinate the king and alerted Esther. Also, aware of Haman’s growing anger toward the Jews, Mordechai informed Esther of Haman's plans. He implored her to intercede and demand an audience with the king. Despite the King’s warnings not to disturb him, Queen Esther risked her life and requested that the king see her. Fortunately, King Achashverosh was so smitten with his lovely new queen that he granted Esther’s request.

The queen invited both her husband and Haman to two banquets.  That evening, the king learned that Mordechai saved his life by reporting the assassination plot. The king ordered Haman to honor Mordechai by dressing him in royal garments, placing him on a royal stallion and by leading Mordechai through the streets of Shushan.  At this point, Haman was even more determined to destroy the Jews, particularly Mordechai.

After fasting for several days, Esther held the second banquet. She told the King that Haman has signed her death order.  Distraught, the King questioned Haman who denied the accusation. Esther revealed that she was Jewish and if the king did not recall Haman’s decree, both she and her people would be killed.  King Achashverosh recalled the edict and ordered that Haman (and his 10 sons) be hung instead of the Jews.   Mordechai was appointed to be new Prime Minister. While in office, he initiated a new holiday, Purim, which consisted of a festive meal, the exchange of gifts of food and donations to the poor and needy.

Each year on the 14th of Adar (which is the 12th month in the Jewish calendar and usually falls in March or late February) the story of Purim is told as a reminder that good can triumph over evil in remarkable ways.

Purim Family Fun Traditions

When I asked my eight year old daughter what she enjoys about Purim, she replied simply, “It’s a lot of fun and you eat great cookies.”  And I couldn’t agree more.  There are three themes associated with Purim:

Kri-aat Megillah

Jews gather in synagogues to read the Book (or Megillat) of Esther.

  • The Festivities: Congregants dress up and have a skit called the Purim Shpiel:  An entertaining historical account of the events leading up to the holiday. (This year I was asked to play Queen Esther in our synagogue’s re-enactment of the event.)
  • The Noise: During the skit, one of the goals of the participants and the audience is to ensure that the name, Haman, is eradicated.  Whenever his name is mentioned, the audience is encouraged to stamp its feet, pound chairs, yell and make noise with graggers.
  • The Food: Families gather to have a “feast” or a meal while it is still light out because the verse in the Book of Esther mentions the “days” of feasting.  Haman Tashen (triangular pastries filled with poppy seed – “mon” in Yiddish) is eaten to denote the obliteration of Haman (the “mon” in the pasty represents Haman).

Matanot Laevyonim  or "Presents to the poor"

The giving of gifts of food or money to the needy.  Often synagogues schedule food drives during Purim and encourage school age children to bring boxes of dried goods to the Purim Shpiel.  After they have used the boxes as graggers, the children can donate the food.

Mishloach Manot  or  An Occasion for the Sending of Gifts. 

The sending of gifts of goodies with relatives, friends, and neighbors.  Many of these gifts will include at least 2 different types of food like baked Hamentashen and fruit.

Hamentashen Cookies

Hamentashen Recipe: Traditional Purim Dessert

As a child, my grandmother told me that the triangle represented Haman’s triangular hat. This was my grandmother’s favorite recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lbs Butter (softened) 2 sticks
  • 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 4 Eggs + (1 set aside)
  • 4-5 Cups Flour
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Fillings

  • 1 can/jar Rasp Pastry Filling
  • 1 can/jar Apricot Pastry Filling
  • 1 can/jar Prune Pastry Filling
  • 1 can/jar Apple Butter

(Suggestion: Use Solo Brand Pastry Filling. It doesn't bubble out of the cookie.)

Directions:

  1. Beat butter with sugar well, until fluffy. Add 3 eggs, beating well after each. Add remaining ingredients and mix to form dough.
  2. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour
  3. Roll out dough thinly (1/8") on floured board. Cut out circular shapes using a juice glass (3-4 inch circles)
  4. Brush each cookie circle with the last egg using an egg wash.
  5. Place 1 tsp of filling in the center of each circle. Shape circular pieces into triangles by pinching dough together at 3 evenly spaced intervals.
  6. Pinch the ends together by joining opposite corners and pressing dough together to forming a pocket for the filling.
  7. Place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees about 18-20 minutes or until lightly brown.
Source: NY Post, February 1983
What are some of your family's favorite holidays? 
Feature image courtesy of Flickr.
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Renee Radbill Keats has been blogging since 2003. Recently, Renee was selected to be one of twelve Oprah Winfrey Lifeclass bloggers on the OWN Network. You can find Renee’s musings on A Windy City Momma, where she writes about her strange parental experiences, the decision to learn Hebrew and become a Bat Mitzvah as an adult and her ongoing adjustment to living in Chicago despite the fact that she has resided there for more than a decade.

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