REGINA — It’s often called the Jewish Mardi Gras, when people dress in costumes, make noise and celebrate Esther, whose bravery in ancient Persia saved the Jews from extermination. Esther is called to be queen in King Xerxes’ court but unbeknownst to the king, she is a Jew.
The villain in the piece is Haman, a senior functionary in the court of King Xerxes of Persia. He’s royally ticked off that Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and caregiver in the unexplained absence of any parentage, convinces the king the Jews don’t obey his laws, have their own way of life and are not fit to be subjects of the king and should be exterminated, and the king agrees.
Mordecai, on hearing this, convinces Esther she should approach the king, a dangerous venture without first being summoned, and convince him not to proceed. She wins the day; the Jews are allowed to defend themselves, and kill about 70,000 of their antagonists. Haman is hanged for his efforts and all is well in Persia.
The story is told in the reading of the Megillah, which is really the Book of Esther, and the fun comes every time Haman’s name is mentioned. There are boos, hisses and the loud use of noise makers with the intent of drowning out the mention of Haman’s name. Many wear costumes and masks depicting the characters in the story.
“We can’t tell who’s who anymore, so it’s hard to discern the difference between good people and bad people,” said Rabbi Jeremy Parnes following the reading of the Megillah at Beth Jacob Synagogue.
It’s also important at these events to give money and gifts to the poor, said Parnes. “We give gift baskets to seniors, shut-ins, food and money to poor people. It’s quite common for people to go from synagogue to synagogue and even house to house. We dress in costume and they do as well so that nobody knows who is poor and who is rich, so their dignity is held in place, which is rather a nice way of doing things.”
It may be common practice in larger centres but in Regina, Parnes said, money and food is given to the Food Bank or the Salvation Army or other charities. “It may not be traditional, but it follows the same intent.”
Food and drink are also available as part of the celebration, including Hamentaschen, fruit-filled cookies in the shape of the tri-corner hat worn by Hamas.
The event was held March 23, the same evening as the debate between Sask. Party Leader Brad Wall and NDP leader Cam Broten, which seemed to have an impact on the number of people who turned out for the party.