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March 7, 2017 > Purim celebrates the courage of Esther

Purim celebrates the courage of Esther

By Cyndy Patrick

Have you ever done something that scared the wits out of you? Taking action, despite being scared to death, is what courage is all about. The celebration of Purim is the festive Jewish holiday that honors one womanÕs courageous act that saved an entire nation of people. That woman was Esther and today, the Jewish people still celebrate her story and GodÕs faithfulness of more than two thousand years ago.

The theme of Purim is unity and thanksgiving all rolled up into an exuberant carnival complete with costumes, gifts, and merriment. Purim is held each year on the14th of Adar according to the Jewish calendar, which begins at sundown on March 11 and ends the following evening on March 12. Local celebrations begin Friday, March 10 and events will be held all weekend.

The story of Esther is one of the books written in the Old Testament of the Bible. It is one of only two books written about women (the other being the book of Ruth). It is also handwritten on a Hebrew scroll called the Megillah. To attend an oral reading of this scroll at synagogue both the night Purim begins and the following day is one special mitzvah or commandment that the Jewish people perform during the Purim celebration.

Back in the 4th century BCE, the Jewish people along with all other subjects of the vast Persian Empire were under the rule of King Ahashuerus. After his first wife, Queen Vashti, disobeyed his command to appear for a celebration, the king had her executed. To replace his wife, he held an elaborate one-year-long beauty pageant to locate the finest woman in his land. He chose Esther to be his Queen but she kept her Jewish heritage a secret from him.

Meanwhile, the king had an advisor named Haman. He disliked the Jewish people and one day became highly offended when EstherÕs cousin, Mordechai, refused to bow down to him. Haman hatched a plan to have all of the Jewish people killed and chose the date for their annihilation by casting lots. The word Purim means ÒlotsÓ in the Hebrew language.

But when Mordechai told Esther of what was to come, she decided to risk her life and request an audience with the king. It was a huge risk to tell him she was Jewish. The Jewish people celebrate GodÕs hand in the outcome because the king sided with his new wife. He was so outraged that he had Haman hung on the very same gallows that Haman had built to execute Mordechai.

The other three mitzvot of Purim are to give to the needy, send food baskets called mishloach manot to friends, and to have a special feast with your family. Traditional triangular pastries called hamantaschen filled with poppy seeds, fruits or chocolate are often made.

Many temples have a fun-loving spiel (play) about the story of Esther and each time the evil HamanÕs name is mentioned, the people twirl graggers (noise makers) and stomp their feet. Rabbi Harry Manhoff of Temple Beth Sholom said Purim is all about having fun and letting loose. He will definitely be wearing a costume at his service!

ÒThe holiday brings back happy childhood memories of growing up in a wonderful temple back in New Jersey, but now itÕs about the need to make sure that everybody is safe and has someone to protect them in todayÕs climate.Ó Manhoff recently spoke on this topic at the San Leandro City Council meeting, where they voted unanimously to make it a Sanctuary City.

PurimPalooza at Temple Beth Torah in Fremont includes a carnival for children, Purim study with the Rabbi, home kitchen beer brewing Òhow-toÓ and a social action of collecting donations for gift baskets to be given to the children served by Abode Services. Please visit for more information.

Purim Spiel
Friday, Mar 10
8:30 p.m.
Purim Service
Saturday, Mar 11
7:00 p.m.
Purim Carnival (kids under 12), Costume Parade
Megillah Reading and Hamantaschen Bake-off
Sunday, Mar 12
10:00 a.m. Ð noon
Temple Beth Sholom
642 Dolores Ave, San Leandro
(510) 357-8505

Purim Service
Saturday, Mar 11
7:30 p.m.
PurimPalooza Carnival
Sunday, Mar 12
11:30 a.m. Ð 1:30 p.m.
Temple Beth Torah
42000 Paseo Padre Pkwy, Fremont
(510) 656-7141
Free (tickets for sale to play games)

Purim Shabbat Service
Friday, Mar 10
7:00 p.m. Ð 9:00 p.m.
Coffee & Commentaries
Saturday, Mar 11
10:00 a.m. Ð 11:00 a.m.
Congregation Shir Ami
4529 Malabar Ave, Castro Valley
(510) 537-1787

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