CHJ holds an annual Purim party, held right after Sunday School, with a Hamantaschen Bake-Off. Prizes are awarded for best taste, most attractive, and most creative hamantaschen. The holiday’s name, “Purim,” meaning “lots” or “dice,” is meant to remind us of how the evil character Haman drew lots to determine the fate of the Jews of Persia. According to the Book of Esther, were it not for the goodness and intervention of Queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai in the court of Esther’s gentile husband, King Ahasuerus, the Jews certainly would have been exterminated by the king’s vizier Haman.
Purim became the joyous celebration of an epic Jewish victory over anti-Semitism and threatened annihilation – an enactment of the hopes of persecuted Jews throughout the centuries.
During the telling of the story, the heroes are cheered and the villain, Haman, is booed and his name is drowned out by the sound of noise-makers or gragers.
Purim is a story that became popular to a people in exile. It is part of the long tradition of Jews absorbing parts of their surrounding culture, yet remaining a people apart.
It celebrates the common Jewish dream of the triumph of clever wit over crude brutality. It has a heroine who is very adaptable, but with a hard core of loyalty to her identity as a Jew and to her fellow Jews in a time of trouble. Esther risked her life to assert her right, and the right of her people, to be Jewish in whatever way they chose.
Human initiative is the theme throughout the story and there is no mention at all of the Jewish God. The story also features Esther’s mixed marriage, in the long Jewish tradition of people like Moses and his Cushite wife, who was probably Ethiopian or Sudanese. Esther did not feel t
hat she was compromising her Jewish identity by marrying the Persian king. And she did not fail to assert that identity when the crisis in the story came. Purim can be seen as a celebration of Jewish solidarity in a time of danger, but also as one of reaching out to someone of a different background.