The merry Jewish festival of Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar, this year falling in February.
And this year’s fest was celebrated locally on Saturday and Sunday, with Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester hosting a Purim celebration on Saturday evening complete with the boisterous reading of the Book of Esther, lots of noise, foods and drinks, games, and costumes.
Purim commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from an evil prime minister’s plot “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day.”
The Persian empire of the 4th century BC extended over 127 lands, and all the Jewish people who lived in those areas were its subjects. When King Ahasuerus had his wife, Queen Vashti, executed for failing to follow his orders, he held a beauty pageant to find a new queen.
A Jewish woman named Esther caught his eye and he chose her to become the new queen; however, she refused to divulge the identity of her nationality, at the advice of her close uncle Mordechai.
Around this time, the anti-Semitic Haman was appointed prime minister of the empire and ordered citizens to show deference to him. Mordechai, the leader of the Jews, defied the orders and refused to bow to Haman. Haman was incensed and convinced the king to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar—a date chosen by a lottery Haman made.
Previous to this, Mordechai had overheard a plot by servants to kill the king. He passed along this tip to Esther who warned the king.
Esther learned of this new threat by Haman to her people and knew she had to tell the king. She had Mordechai instruct the Jewish community to fast on her behalf while she attempted a risky unannounced visit to the king, who had said that whatever she wished, he would grant. She asked him and Haman to join her for feasts.
At the feasts, Esther revealed to the king her Jewish identity. Mordechai was also honored for helping to save the king from assassination — and she revealed the plot she knew Haman was planning against the Jewish people.
Haman was then hanged, Mordechai was appointed prime minister in his stead, and a new decree was issued — granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.
During Purim, people hold costume parties and parades — following the theme of Purim being a holiday of disguise where nothing is as it seems.
Synagogues and communities will hold plays and festivals. People bring gifts of food to friends and monetary gifts to the poor. They read from the Book of Esther, also known as a megillah, and make a lot of noise during its recounting, especially each time Haman’s name is uttered (to drown his name out), some participants wave flags each time Esther’s name is read, and eat, among other sweet foods, hamentashen — triangular cookies filled with jam, that symbolize Haman’s ears.
Times photo chief Allegra Boverman can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3448, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.