If you were to walk into a synagogue today you’d probably read on the community bulletin board or see on their website an invitation to join in their upcoming Purim celebration.
Purim is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the day God delivered the Jewish people from the wicked hand of Haman in the Book of Esther.
At the end of Esther the Jewish people are commanded to honor the day they were delivered. “So these days were to be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation, every family, every province and every city; and these days of Purim were not to fail from among the Jews, or their memory fade from their descendants.” (Esther 9:28).
Following the Hebrew calendar, Purim is annually commemorated on the 14th day of the month of Adar, which typically correlates with mid-February to early March. This year Purim falls on February 23-24, 2013.
Next week Bruce Scott will explain the biblical meaning of Purim. However, for now, I wanted to discuss how the Jewish people prepare and celebrate Purim today.
Last year, around this time, I had just landed in Tel Aviv with a group of about twelve people anxious to serve on our Friends of Israel Hesed Project. We decided to get our rental vans from the Ben Gurion International Airport and do a little sight-seeing before dinner at our hotel. One of the closet biblical sites to the airport is the ancient port of Joppa (Jonah 1:3, Acts 9:43). Joppa is still a thriving city called Yafo in the modern State of Israel.
As we were driving into Joppa I noticed a traffic jam forming, people were crowding the small streets slowing traffic. I peered out the window and noticed the pedestrians walking in the middle of the road were wearing funny looking costumes. For a moment, I thought I led our convoy of vans into an Israeli parade! I would later come to find out we were driving through a Purim celebration.
Preparing for Purim
Many Jewish people, especially in Israel, are preparing for this holiday by planning their costume or mask for the tradition of Masquerading (I almost hit some masqueraders last year).
Many of the costumes and masks are decorative and colorful, yet like any Jewish tradition the rabbis disagree about the meaning of Masquerading. One of the more spiritual meanings of Masquerading is connected to the absence of God’s name in the Book of Esther. They say “Masquerading also alludes to the miracle of Purim, which was ‘masked’ within the laws of nature, even though it was the Almighty Who was directing events.” The author of this quote is saying God disguised Himself in the natural events that unfolded to protect His people. I think this is a beautiful interpretation of the tradition of Masquerading.
Planning your costume for your Purim party is only half the fun. The other half is baking your Hamantashen for your guests. Hamantashen are three-cornered pastry that can be filled with a variety of jams (strawberry, raspberry, apricot, etc), nuts, or chocolate. Again, the meaning of the Hamantashen is widely debated. Some argue the word Hamantashen literally means “Haman’s Pockets”, which represents the Haman’s personal money he was going to use to exterminate all the Jewish people. In Israel they call the triangle shaped cookies Oznei Haman which means “Haman’s Ears” while another interpretation is that the cookies are designed to look like Haman’s tri-cornered hat! Whatever your interpretation is, Hamantashen are addictive sweets.
Many synagogues have been busy planning their Purim Spiel, which is a light-hearted dramatization that’s designed to bring some comic relief to the Jewish people celebrating Purim. Typically, the actors in the Purim Spiel will dress up in costumes portraying the characters from the Book of Esther like Mordechai, Esther, and Haman.
Over all the celebration of Purim is to be a cheerful, lighthearted, and just plain fun… just as they did in the book of Esther when they “turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and rejoicing and sending portions of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” (Esther 9:22).
Have you ever attended a Purim party? If you did, tell us about it!