Saturday February 23, 2013

By MARTIN COHN

BRATTLEBORO -- Purim is celebrated by the reading of the Scroll of Esther, known in Hebrew as the "Megillat Esther," which relates the basic story of Purim. Under the rule of King Ahashuerus, Haman, the King’s prime minister, plots to exterminate all of the Jews of Persia in about 400 BCE. His plan is foiled by Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, who ultimately save the Jews of the land from destruction. The reading of the "megillah" is typically a rowdy affair, punctuated by booing and noise-making when Haman’s name is read aloud.

The holiday, observed every year on the 14th day of the 12th month (Adar) on the Jewish calendar, is a day of feasting and fun. Purim, so-called because the villain of the story, Haman, cast the "pur" (the lot) against the Jews yet failed to destroy them, is an unusual holiday in many respects. First, Esther is the only Book of the Bible in which God is not mentioned. Second, Purim, like Chanukah, is viewed traditionally as a minor festival, but elevated to a major holiday as a result of the Jewish historical experience. Over the centuries, Haman became the embodiment of every anti-Semite in every land where Jews were oppressed. The significance in Purim lies not so much in how it began, but in what it has become -- a thankful and joyous affirmation of Jewish survival against all odds.

As with most Jewish holidays, food plays an important role in Purim. For instance, people are commanded to send mishloach manot to other Jews. Mishloach Manot are baskets filled with food and drink. On Purim Jews are also supposed to enjoy a festive meal, called the Purim se’udah (meal), as part of their holiday celebration. Oftentimes people will serve hamantaschen, special Purim cookies, during the dessert course.

In addition to sending mishloach manot, Jews are also commanded to be especially charitable during Purim and will often make monetary donations to charities they support during this time or will give money to needy people.

The Brattleboro Area Jewish Community will celebrate Purim on Sunday, Feb. 24, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. with a short service in which the Book of Esther will be read and hamentaschen will be served. Also, on Monday, Feb. 25, from 4:50 to 5:45 p.m., there will be a religious school mini-Purim festival for children.

Brattleboro Area Jewish Community is located at 151 Greenleaf St. in West Brattleboro. Check the website, bajcvermont.org, or leave a message at 802-257-1959 for more information.

Martin Cohn, is the Immediate Past President of the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community.