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Let’s Celebrate!!!

January 21, 2009
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A Prayerful, Sober Purim

It was in the days before the Berlin wall came down. The Jews of the Soviet Union were struggling to be allowed to worship as Jews, to study Hebrew, and to leave for Israel. A Christian minister from Canada called for Christians everywhere to join in a three-day fast during Purim to pray for the release of the Soviet Jews. In the biblical account, Mordechai came to Queen Esther asking her to intercede with the king for the lives of her people (the Jewish people), saying, “Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14). Esther called for a three-day fast before she risked her life in going uninvited before the king.

It was 1981 when we joined in the Esther fast praying for Israel, the Jewish people, and particularly for the release of Soviet Jews. We too felt a sense of purpose that we had a job to do “for such a time as this.” Since that day, we have rejoiced to see the release of the Jewish people in the former Soviet Union and the arrival of over a million of them in Israel. So, our first Purim experience was a powerful, prayerful, spiritual experience.

A Joyful Purim

Upon arriving in Israel, we found that Purim is a happy, hilarious party time. As with most Jewish holidays, the celebration is one of rejoicing over the continued existence of the Jewish people and their triumph over almost certain death. We experienced our first Israeli Purim while volunteering on a kibbutz (communal settlement). Some of our kibbutznik friends invited us to come to the synagogue with them. To our surprise, the atmosphere was electric with excitement. There was nothing solemn about the occasion; rather, unbridled joy reigned.

Families had gathered together to hear the reading of Megilat Esther (the scroll of Esther). Every time the name Haman was read, the place erupted in boos and hisses. Large rattlers called rashanim were shaken. I’m surprised the noise didn’t break the glass in the windows! When Mordechai was mentioned, happy and exuberant cheers filled the room. Later, the whole kibbutz joined in a masquerade party with music, dancing, lots of good food, and an open bar. This is the one time of year when Jewish religious leaders encourage the people to drink to excess. Tom and I did not participate in the drinking but did enjoy the goodies, costumes, and music.

Since living in Jerusalem, we have enjoyed many Purim celebrations when the city streets are full of all manner of costumed characters. Esthers and Mordechais are numerous. Little girls in fairy tale-type princess dresses with crowns skip down the streets. Of course, there are also dinosaurs, pirates, and every other kind of costume you can imagine. Neighbors, friends, and family bring platefuls of treats, called mishloach minot, which always include a special triangular-shaped pastry called hamantaschen (Yiddish for Haman’s hat). So as these delightful treats are consumed, once again Haman is triumphed over. Interestingly enough, in Hebrew, the pastries are called oznei Haman, which means Haman’s ears. Tom, who enjoys an occasional foray into the kitchen to do some baking, enjoys making these cookies. We also enjoy Purim spiels, which are funny, often hilarious, dramatic presentations of the story.

As with all Jewish holidays, an important aspect is to remember the deliverance of the people from their enemies. Although God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, His footprints are clearly seen as a miracle bathed in prayer brings about the deliverance of the Jewish people. Purim is laughter, joy, fun, giving, eating, but most of all, Purim is about rejoicing because once again God has proved Himself faithful to deliver His people.

By Rebecca J. Brimmer, International President and CEO

Photo Credit: Photo: www.israelimages.com

Photo Credit: Photo: www.israelimages.com

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