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'Purimania'! Celebrating Judaism's happiest holiday

Published: Tuesday, March 6 2012 9:09 p.m. MST

This image taken on Jan. 30, 2012 in Concord, N.H. shows triangular-shaped orange-poppy seed hamantashen cookies, a favorite for the Jewish holiday Purim. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — At Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, they're calling it "Purimania," a joyful celebration of what many consider Judaism's happiest and most fun holiday.

The event, scheduled for Thursday at the Chabad Community Center (1760 S. 1100 East), will feature dinner, dancing, music by Desert Wind and treats of all kinds.

"Purim is a celebration of Jewish deliverance," said Rabbi Benny Zippel. "It is a day to eat lots of good food and drink wine and wear masks and costumes and to rejoice."

Purim is celebrated by observing Jews each year (this year it begins at sunset on Wednesday, March 7 and continues through nightfall on Thursday, March 8) in commemoration of the Bible story of Queen Esther. Associated Press writer Jim Romanoff summarized the annual Purim feast this way: "They tried to kill us, we won, so let's eat!"

Part of the Purim tradition is the reading of the "Megillah," or the scroll upon which is written the Bible's Book of Esther. According to the story, Esther was an orphaned Jewish girl who was raised by her cousin, Mordechai, a Jewish leader. At the time, the Jews were subjects of the Persian empire, which was governed by King Ahasuerus. Following the death of Queen Vashti (who was executed by order of the king), all of the fairest women of the land — including Esther — were gathered to see who would become the new queen. Even though she had no desire to be queen, Esther was selected, and Mordechai warned her not to tell anyone that she was Jewish — not even the king.

Haman, the king's evil prime minister, tricked the king into allowing him to issue an order that would eventually lead to the extermination of the Jews. Mordechai convinced Esther to approach the king and beg him to spare her people. Queen Esther knew that if she approached the king without being royally summoned, she could be executed just as Queen Vashti had been. So she told Mordechai to get all the Jewish people to fast and pray for her for three days, so that she would have the right opportunity to approach the king.

Those prayers were answered, and Queen Esther was able to gain the favor of the king, who granted her request to spare her people. In fact, the king was so angry when he learned about Haman's order that he had him hung on the very gallows that Haman had constructed with the intention of hanging Mordechai.

As the story is read on Purim, it is customary for listeners to boo, hiss, stamp their feet or rattle "gragers" (noisemakers) whenever Haman's name is mentioned in an attempt to "blot out the name of Haman." Many people — especially children — dress up as Queen Esther or Mordechai or other costumed characters, so the reading of the Megillah takes on a sort of melodrama feel.

Other Purim traditions, according to Rabbi Zippel, include the giving of money or food to at least two needy people; giving gifts of food of food and drink to friends and family; and a festive, brightly decorated family feast featuring meat, wine and "hamentaschen" (triangular, fruit-filled cookies that are supposed to represent Haman's three-cornered hat).

"One of Purim's primary themes is Jewish unity," Zippel said. "Haman tried to kill us all, we were all in danger together, so we celebrate together, too."

Let the "Purimania" begin!

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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