By Judi Markowitz
Purim over the years in the author's family
You might be inclined to mistake the Jewish holiday of Purim with Halloween. It’s true–candy is a front runner on Purim, too. Gift baskets will be exchanged. parties held, donations to the needy made, and meals with friends and families enjoyed to mark the merriment of this special day. But this holiday, which comes next Monday, March 6 (the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar) has its own ancient legacy and lore.
I have my own non-journalistic reasons for waiting eagerly for Purim (POOR-im). I am anxious to see the costumes that my grandchildren will be wearing. My daughter-in-law, Chana Tova, always comes up with creative ideas for their family of nine, which is no easy feat.
Purim is associated with the miraculous turnaround and salvation of the Jewish people with a major disaster averted. The story began in ancient Persia in the fourth century B.C.E. With the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem 65 years prior, Jews were the subjects of the mighty Persian empire and antisemitism was prevalent.
There are four main characters in this cinematic saga: Esther, Mordechai, King Ahasuerus, and Haman. To simplify a long story, there is a king, Ahasuerus, who threw a decadent party for 180 days, in order to celebrate the continued exile of the Jews and to entice them to sin further. While drunk, the king ordered his wife to be executed because she disobeyed a direct request.
After a few lonely months, the king wanted to marry again. So the hunt began. A beauty pageant was orchestrated and the girl who sparked interest in the king’s eyes would become the new queen.
This beauty was Esther who hid her Jewish identity from her new husband.
Esther’s uncle was Mordechai, the leader of the Jews. He overheard a plot to assassinate King Ahasuerus. He reported this information to the monarch, the traitors were hanged, and Mordechai’s good deed was recorded in the King’s chronicles.
Then wicked Haman was promoted to the position of prime minister. He was a well-known Jew hater. Haman issued a proclamation that when he appeared in public, everyone had to bow down to him. Mordechai refused. Haman became infuriated and wanted to take revenge against all the Jews.
Haman struck a deal with King Ahasuerus. He offered him 10,000 silver talents for permission to kill all Jewish men, women, and children. The king acquiesced, but told Haman to keep the money since he did not like the Jews either. Proclamations to carry out the deed were posted throughout the country.
Esther had to intercede. In a nutshell, at yet another wine feast, Esther reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is the enemy of her nation. She pleads for the lives of her people, the king relents, hangs Haman on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordechai, and Mordechai is appointed second to the king in place of the wicked Haman. The Jews then fought their enemies with valor and were victorious.
When my children were younger, we would go to Temple for Purim festivals. There were games, contests, prizes and tempting food to be devoured. Our family would also attend services to hear the reading of the Megillah—the Book of Esther. Since Haman was the bad guy, each time his name was mentioned, the crowd of worshippers would yell, “Boo Haman” and stomp their feet. Noisemakers, called groggers, would also be used to show disdain with each mention of Haman’s name. These delightful toys would be brought home and the racket continued for days —until finally they fell apart or were discarded.
Costumes are an integral part of Purim. My grandchildren and their parents always have coordinated outfits for the day’s festivities. Years ago, the primary get-up would be a look-alike with Esther, Haman, Mordechai or King Ahasuerus. But like everything else, costumes have become more sophisticated, and change is prevalent.
Now most Jewish families, regardless of their Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform affiliation, wear secular costumes. My son’s family members have dressed like characters from a few of the Dr. Suess books, scuba divers with gear and even emojis. This Purim, they are planning on wearing army outfits—every year it’s a surprise.
And what is a party without adult refreshments? It’s a big drinking day for the Jewish community as they commemorate the miraculous events that occurred at the wine feasts of the Purim story. According to tradition, drinking alcohol is intended to blur the lines until you can’t distinguish between the wicked Haman and Mordechai, the noble one.
The lesson here is that one can’t tell which is a bigger miracle: that Haman’s evil plot was turned on his own head or that Mordechai and the Jewish people were elevated to a stature of greatness. The goal of drinking is to praise God out of a state of joy for these two miracles.
Most Purim meals center around family, friends, and recounting the events of Esther’s story and how she saved her people from slaughter. My daughter-in-law is a wonderful cook and never fails to delight her guests. Her table looks like a veritable feast — there’s enough food for the entire neighborhood. Along with traditional dishes such as brisket, chicken and an array of salads, the desserts take center stage.
Pastries of all sorts are typically served at holiday celebrations. The focus at Purim is on hamantaschen — named after Haman. You might be asking, “Why is there a delectable pastry identified with an evil man who wanted to annihilate the Jewish people? The answer is simple. Haman wore a three-corner hat. A hamantaschen resembles his hat and the act of eating it symbolizes defeating the enemy.
Hamantaschen have a wide variety of fillings such as poppy seed, jam, chocolate and custard. According to a CBS news broadcast, Breads Bakery in New York City will sell as many as 10,000 hamantaschen a day leading up to Purim. Even after the holiday, the request for this delicacy doesn’t slow down. The owner of Breads Bakery, Gadi Peleg, said “The most requested item that we get to continue to do all year is hamantaschen.”
Even though there is a great deal of joy surrounding Purim, the memory of a potential genocide cannot be forgotten. The story of Esther has been repeated every year since its origin. Surprisingly, there is no mention of God in the narrative. This is the only book of its type in the Torah. God’s work is shown behind the scenes — no overt miracles or direct intervention, yet God is pulling the strings. Esther’s strength, combined with the help of her uncle Mordecai, showcases the power of faith.
Chag Purim Sameach! Happy Purim!
Judi Markowitz is a retired high school English teacher of 34 years. She primarily taught 12th grade and had the pleasure of her three sons gracing her classes. In addition, she taught debate, forensics, and Detroit film. Judi has four adult children and seven wonderful grandchildren. She is married to Jeffrey Markowitz, whom she met in high school.
Judi grew up in Oak Park, Mich. which had a stellar school district, with excellent teachers. The city provided activities for all–and there were even sidewalks. Judi moved to Huntington Woods as an adult, which is a half mile from her childhood home. She wanted the same experience for her children as she had growing up, and Huntington Woods provided that. The View from Four Foot Two is Judi’s first book.