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In Celebrating Purim, Springfield Jews Remember Esther And Care For The Poor

Coryn Wolk
Flickr via Creative Commons

Purim, a Jewish holiday with roots in the book of Esther, begins on March 20.

Purim is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the foiling of Haman’s plan to eradicate the Jewish people according to the biblical book of Esther.

Rabbi Barbara Block of Temple Israel said that Purim is a unique celebration.

“We celebrate Purim by reading from the book of Esther,” Block said. “That is the central observance, and that can be done reading from the actual text in Hebrew.  Some congregations might read it in Hebrew, we read it in English.  Or it can be done as what’s called the Purim Schpeal, which is where it’s told in a funny way, because Purim is the holiday where you have fun.”

In addition, she said children and some adults will also dress up in costume.

“The tradition has been for children to dress up as the characters in the Purim story, so girls would dress up as Queen Vashti or Queen Esther and boys would dress up as King Ahasuerus or Mordecai, or Haman,” she said.

Kids will deliver plates of food to friends and neighbors, she said, and Purim is a time when the congregation makes sure the poor are provided for.

From a more academic perspective,  some scholars say that the story of Esther is to be interpreted for its moral lessons, and not as a historical book.  

Dr. Vadim Putzu is an assistant professor of Judaism at Missouri State University.

“Purim has its origins in the story of Esther, or perhaps, according to scholars, it’s the other way around,” Putzu said. “Which is to say scholars stand to believe Persian Jews were already possibly celebrating an old Pagan, possibly Babylonian festival that had to do with some sort of Carnival-esque holiday, and then eventually they wrote the scroll of Esther to give some sort of a religious justification to that festival, and to give it a sort of ‘Jewish flavor,’ and adapt it to their customs and their needs,” Putzu said.

According to Putzu, the story of Esther is essentially a story about the problems of living as an ethnic and religious minority in exile in the diaspora. 

As with many holidays, there’s a special food associated with Purim.

“It’s called the hamantaschen, which means either Haman’s hat or Haman’s ears, depending on who you ask,” Rabbi Block said. “The important thing is that it has three corners. It’s a triangular cookie or pastry with various fillings, traditionally poppy seed or prune. We’ve branched out and people fill them with chocolate of course, people fill them all kinds of good things, fruit of different kinds.”

Block says hamantaschen has a significance unique to the holiday, and unique to the Jewish people.

“Those pastries are a way of making light of someone who, according to the story, was a very, very bad man,” Block said. “Haman wanted to exterminate all of the Jews, and there have been people like Haman all throughout history, unfortunately.”

She says eating hamantaschen goes beyond just a celebration of Purim.

“Throughout the ages, the people who have wanted to see the Jewish people end… despite that, we’re still here, and we’re still eating hamantaschen,” Block said.