REGINA — The celebration of Purim is one of the most joyful holidays in the Jewish calendar. It celebrates a time in ancient Persia when the annihilation of the Jews was ordered by the king at the request of his prime minister, Haman, but they were saved by the intervention of Queen Esther.
The story is called the Megillat (the book of Esther) and is read in its entirety during the celebration.
It begins with the king appointing Haman, the richest man in the kingdom, as his prime minister. Haman’s inflated ego demands that everyone bow down before him, but Mordechai, Esther’s cousin, refuses,saying, “I bow only to God.” An enraged Haman orders gallows built on which he intends to hang Mordechai and prevails on the king to exterminate the Jews, who, Haman convinces him, are planning to take over his kingdom.
The king had had his former wife executed for refusing to obey his orders to dance for him at a party, but loneliness compels him to find another queen, and he settles on the beautiful Esther, Mordechai’s cousin. Mordechai cautions his cousin not to reveal her true identity. However, when he hears of Haman’s murderous plans, he persuades Esther to approach the king and intervene, even though approaching the king without being invited is punishable by death.
She sets up a feast and invites the king, informs him that she is a Jew, and tells the king of Haman’s order to exterminate all Jews. The king cannot refuse his beautiful queen, has Haman hanged on the gallows built for Mordechai, and appoints Mordechai as his prime minister. The Jews are saved.
When the story is read, children and adults jeer, blow on noise-makers, shake rattles, and generally drown out the reader at every mention of Haman’s name. Many celebrants wear costumes to show their joy and as an expression of hope that dreadful situations can change. Prizes are awarded for costumes.
Special songs are sung, usually by the children, and a variety of foods and dainties, including hamentaschen (stuffed cookies in the form of a three-cornered hat said to symbolize that worn by the prime minister). There is an open bar and adults are encouraged to drink their fill, although the celebrants don’t take it literally.
The party at Beth Jacob Synagogue March 4 featured games and a Dino bouncer set up in the adjacent gym. To share their joy, Jews are encouraged to donate money to the poor and send gifts of food to friends and relatives.
Synagogue staff said the crowd was the largest they had seen in years. “We’ve been working on that,” said Rabbi Jeremy Parnes.