By Ann Marie Quill
When one thinks of Jewish holidays, occasions like the somber Yom Kippur or reflective Passover may come to mind. But this time of year the perhaps lesser-known holiday of Purim means it’s time to have some fun.
“It’s not unlike Mardi Gras,” said Rabbi Brian Glusman, director of community outreach and engagement for the Marcus Jewish Community Center in Dunwoody. “The month it occurs is the happiest month in the Jewish calendar.”
Purim celebrations, he said, include costumes, noisemakers, parties, food and drink, and exchanging gifts.
The holiday celebrates a story of survival from the fourth century, Glusman said.
The King of Persia was manipulated by his prime minister, Haman, into believing the Jewish people were a threat. Meanwhile, the queen was secretly Jewish. So, Queen Esther, along with her uncle Mordechai, saved her people by revealing that she herself was Jewish, and that Haman planned to kill all the empire’s Jews.
“Today we celebrate with happy joy,” Glusman said.
The tradition of wearing costumes comes from Esther unveiling herself as a Jewish person, while one of the holiday’s signature treats is hamantashen, a doughy, fruit-filled pocket pastry shaped like a triangle, representing Haman’s hat.
Jewish children often learn about Purim through school carnivals and activities.
At Davis Academy in Sandy Springs, “kids wear costumes, create fun skits to retell the Purim story, and engage in other sorts of fun activities throughout the day,” said Rabbi Micah Lapidus, the school’s director of Judaic and Hebrew studies.
“At the end of the day, our second-grade students host a bake sale to raise money for the Atlanta Community Food Bank. On most Jewish holidays there’s a component that involves reaching out to those who are in need,” Lapidus said.
In fact, in the Bible, the Book of Esther instructs people to give gifts of food to their fellow man and to the poor.
Lapidus added that while it’s a festive holiday, children can learn important lessons while celebrating.
“Some of the main lessons are the importance of standing up for justice and what you know is right, having the courage to make personal sacrifice for the greater good, and the fact that God works in mysterious ways,” he said.
This year Purim begins at sunset on Saturday, March 15, and continues through Sunday night, March 16. The MJCCA will celebrate with a family program, “Megillah Madness,” from 10 a.m. to noon on March 16. The program includes songs, a reading from the Megillah, a scroll containing the Book of Esther, a magic show and a costume parade.
One of the Jewish community’s signature Purim events in the Atlanta area is Congregation Beth Jacob’s annual Purim parade and festival in Toco Hills. It begins at 11 a.m. March 9 at the Toco Hills Shopping Center and continues on Lavista Road, ending at Beth Jacob, where the festival takes place.
Glusman said that Purim is celebrating a physical freedom in comparison to a holiday like Hanukah when spiritual freedom is embraced.
“Throughout our history we have been both welcomed and persecuted, embraced and shunned,” Lapidus said. “Purim tells the story of how the Jews of Persia subverted a plot intended to annihilate the Jewish community.”