View from the Pew
Noise marks celebration of Purim
Anyone who remembers being a child in church, under stern parental edict to be quiet, has got to love the way Jewish congregations celebrate their next religious holiday.
For the celebration of Purim, participants are encouraged to bring rattles and noisemakers to the service. Grown-ups who perfected their Bronx cheer years ago get to demonstrate the skill for the children, joining others who boo, shout and whistle every time the name of the villain comes up.
Haman is the bad guy in the scroll of Esther, which is familiar to non-Jews as a book of the Old Testament. As prime minister in the Persian kingdom 2,400 years ago, he influenced King Ahasuerus to order the slaughter of his enemy at court, Mordecai, and all other Jews in the vast kingdom.
But Esther, the beautiful woman the king had chosen as queen, was Jewish. She wined and dined the king and, at her uncle Mordecai's suggestion, pleaded with her husband to spare her people. It was a risk for the orphan girl who had risen to the cushy life of queen, but it worked.
Ahasuerus signed a second edict, allowing the Jews to defend themselves, and so they did. According to the story, 75,000 "who hated them" were slain before the two-day war ended, including Haman and his sons. There is more to the story of palace intrigue and romance, and Hollywood has used it as a script several times, most recently in last year's film "One Night With the King."
The scroll of Esther instructs the Jewish people to celebrate the satisfactory ending "with feasting and gladness," and that is the tradition local congregations will follow next weekend.
The megillah -- meaning scroll -- will be read at services next Saturday at Temple Emanu-El and Chabad of Hawaii with full noisy audience participation.
"The tradition is when heroes Esther and Mordecai are named, we cheer, and when Haman is mentioned, we make as much noise as possible to erase his name from our consciousness," said Rabbi Peter Schaktman, of Temple Emanu-El.
"It's fun and games with a deeper, darker theme, a way to deal with dark issues in a fun way," he said. Although scholars recognize that the story is more legend than history, people embrace the holiday as "a celebration of Jewish triumph over those who oppressed us."
STAR-BULLETIN / MARCH 2005
Sophia Varady, Khara Yeazus and Sarah Simmons waited with anticipation for the Purim Carnival costume contest to begin at Temple Emanu-El in 2005. The three young contestants were dressed as Queen Esther, the orphan who became a royal and who persuaded her husband, the king, not to kill the Jews in his kingdom as his evil adviser Haman wanted.
Rabbi Levi Potash of Chabad of Hawaii said: "We as a Jewish people were saved from being annihilated. It shows us an expression of God's love: At times we may have enemies who want to destroy us, God will look out for us.
"Other holidays are connected to our spiritual side. Since this was a threat against our physical side, we celebrate in a physical way," said Potash. "We have a joyous feast. We enjoy in the most simple meaning of the word."
The Purim service at Temple Emanu-El, 2550 Pali Highway, will be at 7 p.m. next Saturday. The megillah will be read at Chabad of Hawaii in the Ala Moana Hotel, 410 Atkinson Drive, at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday and 10 a.m. March 4.
After the services come the parties.
Twenty members of Temple Emanu-El will act and sing in a musical play, "The Megillah goes to Woodstock," to be performed at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday after the service. The comic show follows a tradition dating back to street plays in the Middle Ages, in which a parody of the familiar story is enacted for laughs, Schaktman said. "Even in the darkest times, it was a time when Jews could make fun of people in authority, in a playful way so they can get away with it."
This year's "Purim spiel" will render 1960s songs with new lyrics -- "Spinning Wheel," "Mercedes Benz," "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising," "Born to Be Wild," "Evil Ways" and "Let the Sunshine In."
"It's supposed to be a joyous occasion, where you become so happy you forget who the good guy is and bad guy is," said the temple cantor and play director, Ken Aronowitz. "Rather than use alcohol, we use laughter."
"Purim in Africa" is the theme this year at Chabad of Hawaii, which has used Chinese and Japanese themes for the party food, entertainment and decorations in previous years. The festivities at 4:30 p.m. March 4 will offer a buffet of kosher African cuisine and African drumming and other entertainment. Tickets are $20, with discounts for families and students. Call 735-8161.
Shades of Mardi Gras, Purim celebrants often wear costumes, and the theme party gives people options beyond the traditional Persian court robes-and-crowns stuff.
"Part of the reason for dressing up is that this was an event that was not what it seemed," said Potash. He said in his childhood in London, costumed children would go around the neighborhood to "make a spiel, sing a song, do an act" for cash.
He said the money they collected would go to the poor. Besides the instructions to retell the story and have a joyous feast, the scroll of Esther also commands the Jewish people to "celebrate God's kindness," Potash said. "When we think of His kindness, we give gifts of charity. The fourth way we celebrate is to gifts of food to friends and acquaintances."