There’s a popular song taught at Jewish religious schools from Teaneck to Tampa to Tel Aviv over that expresses a major theme of Purim. Usually sung in Hebrew, it translates to, “When Adar comes, joy increases.” Adar is the month in the Jewish calendar when Purim is celebrated, and just like Carnival or St. Patrick’s Day, Purim is a holiday that is all about joy and merriment as winter finally ends and spring begins to appear.
The Book of Esther tells the story of Purim, an attempted genocide of the Jews that took place in Persia sometime between the Fourth and Sixth Century BCE. In the story, a beautiful, young Jewish woman named Esther becomes Queen of Persia when the King Ahasuerus chooses her to ascend the throne. Soon after, her cousin Mordechai uncovers a plot to kill the Jews by the king’s vizier, Haman. Mordechai implores Esther to reveal herself as a Jew to the king, so that her entire community may be spared. So enthralled with her beauty and devotion, Ahasuerus agrees and instead Haman is hanged, along with his 10 sons.
“Purim is a great celebration and a joyous holiday because we (the Jewish people) won without losing anybody. For us, that’s a great thing,” said Rabbi Sholom Bogomilsky of the Maplewood Jewish Center.
Unlike the villains in other Jewish holidays who sought slavery or assimilation of the Jewish community, Haman wanted to kill all the Jews of Persia and the lesson of Purim is that the Jews will always survive, explained Bogomilsky.
“It is important for us to learn that we must always go back to our roots, and look at where we are going and where we are supposed to be,” said Bogomilsky. “Purim is a great Jewish spirit story that shows how we as a small nation were able to conquer our foes around the entire world.”
In addition to the commandment to hear the reading of the Purim story written in a scroll known as the megillah, Jews are obligated to enjoy a festive meal, give small gift baskets to friends and family and to donate to the poor.
The congregation at the Maplewood Jewish Center fulfills this commandment, known in Hebrew as matanot l’evyonim, by collecting funds for charities in Israel. Others can take part in the tradition by enabling the needy to celebrate Purim, either by donating to a local nonprofit or by bringing food to someone’s home.
Maplewood Jewish Center hosts “Purim in the Caribbean” on Sunday, March 20 at 4 p.m., 113 Parker Avenue in Maplewood. The pirate-themed celebration includes a megillah reading, Purim dinner, prizes and entertainment for children and adults. Tickets $15 per person or $45 per family. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.