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The story of Purim—who knew?

March 17, 2011

We all know it’s just around the corner—but I’m still looking for signs of spring at every turn. There are so many celebrations and traditions connected to the change of seasons... some familiar and others that conjured up memories skewed by time, with a twist.

When I was a child, spring was the great lead-in to summer vacation and the countdown to the end of school. Sunday school was no exception, and springtime ushers in the “fun” Jewish holiday, Purim, touted as one of the most joyous celebrations in the Jewish calendar. It’s been a while since I celebrated and my facts and figures were lacking, so quite naturally, I took to surfing the web to get them straight.

According to, “The name of the holiday (Purim is the Hebrew word for “lots”) refers to the plot of the King’s advisor Haman, to draw lots for which Jews to kill first. Queen Esther saved the Jewish people from the evil Haman’s ‘lots’ plot by revealing it to the king.”

To the best of my recollection, there were noisemakers, costumes, pastries and a grand story of Good vs. Evil, but apparently I have forgotten about the details—another historical attempt to wipe the poor Jews off the planet. I do recall readings from “The Book of Esther,” which is traditionally read twice during the festivities, once at night and again the next day, and that the holiday usually rolled around sometime near the vernal equinox.

As kids, there were parties, costume parades and the retelling of the story, replete with hisses, boos and the requisite noisemakers (graggers) that would fill the air every time the evil Haman’s name was mentioned. Adults celebrated as well, but in a vastly different way, more in keeping (IMHO) with St Patrick’s Day. According to the website, Purim is “so joyous, in fact, that rabbis have actually commanded adults to get drunk” on the holiday.

News to me, but worthy of investigation, so I read on. “You might think that the origin of this practically pagan-sounding ritual is fundamentally hedonistic; however, both ancient and modern Jewish sources cite a rather esoteric explanation for drinking on Purim: Alcohol sublimates rational thoughts and precludes inhibitions.”

That much I knew, but still wasn’t making the connection of actually encouraging combining cocktails and making noise, so I continued my search. Naturally, enlightened educators downplay this tradition, especially among underage revelers, so I searched for deeper meaning.