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March 15, 2011 > Purim celebrates Jewish survival

Purim celebrates Jewish survival

By Julie Grabowski

One of the most festive Jewish holidays, Purim celebrates the deliverance of Jews from annihilation as recounted in the Book of Esther, also known as the Megillah. It is observed on the 14th day of the month of Adar on the Jewish calendar (falling in February or March), the day after the date set for their destruction.

The story takes place in ancient Persia (modern day Iran) and tells of the bravery of a young girl who saved her people from extinction. Esther was a beautiful girl raised by her cousin Mordechai and taken to the palace of King Ahashuerus to be part of his harem. The king loved Esther above all others and, unaware of her ancestry, made her his queen. Haman, the king's advisor, an arrogant and wicked man, hated Mordechai because he would not bow down to him.

Haman told the king that Mordechai's people (the Jews) didn't observe the king's laws, insisting that this behavior should not be tolerated. The king allowed Haman to deal with the situation and Haman, unbeknownst to the king, planned to annihilate the Jewish people. Discovering the plot, Mordechai urged Esther to reveal her heritage, a dangerous and possibly fatal decision. After three days of fasting and prayer, Esther revealed that she was Jewish and told the king of Haman's wicked plot. The king was enraged and Haman was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordechai.

The word "Purim" means "lots," referring to a lottery Haman used to choose the date when he would destroy the Jews. Purim commemorates this great deliverance of the Jewish people and is marked by abundant joy, thankfulness, and feasting. Gifts are given to the poor, baskets of food called mishloach manot are sent to friends, and silly adaptations of the story of Esther are performed, called "Purim spiels."

Temple Beth Torah in Fremont invites the community to join in its merrymaking at their Purim service and carnival, March 19 and 20th. The service on Saturday presents a reading of the Purim story, partly in Hebrew and partly in English and is very much an audience participation opportunity. People boo, hiss, and shake groggers (noisemakers) whenever Haman is named, and rejoice at the deliverance of the Jews. Portions of the story are sung to popular tunes.

"Purim is a welcome opportunity to 'let it all hang out.' Anyone who comes to Purim expecting a solemn, dignified worship service is in the wrong place. Purim is meant to be celebrated with laughter and singing, hilarity and surprise. We dress in costumes, for on this holiday we depart from our customary roles in life. It's a wonderful festival that lifts the spirit of young and old," says Rabbi Avi Schulman.

Costumes are encouraged at both the service and the carnival. Though some dress up as characters from the Purim story, there are no requirements and people can come as creatively costumed as they wish. The carnival is geared toward ages 12 and under, and will have several games as well as a bounce house. Game tickets are two for $1.

Celebrants can purchase a traditional meal for $5 which includes kugel (baked noodle pudding or casserole) and stuffed cabbage with drink, or go the carnival food route with a hot dog, chips, and drink. Baked goods will also be for sale, including hamantaschen, the traditional triangular pastry named after the villain Haman. The shape is said to represent the ears of Haman or the shape of his hat; the center is filled with poppy seeds or prunes; dates, apricots, and chocolate are among the variations.

Both the Purim service and carnival are open to the public. Purim celebrations are also planned at Congregation Shir Ami in Castro Valley ( and Temple Beth Shalom in San Leandro ( Visit their web sites for additional information.

Purim Service
Saturday, March 19
7 p.m.

Purim Carnival
Sunday, March 20
12 Noon - 1:30 p.m.

Temple Beth Torah
42000 Paseo Padre Parkway, Fremont
(510) 656-7141


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