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Celebrating Purim with song

Or Emet Jewish congregation remembers story of Esther, Haman

Posted: March 9, 2009 12:50 a.m.
Updated: March 9, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Rabbi Jay Levy, left, with his wife Donna, second from left, and son Ascher sing songs during the Purim celebration at the Or Emet Synagogue in Santa Clarita Saturday. Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire from Haman's plot to annihilate them.

Rabbi Jay Levy stood in front of his Or Emet Jewish congregation Saturday night with a guitar strapped around his neck as he taught about the Purim holiday through rock and roll.

"Oyyyyy, it makes me wonder," he sang, replacing the chorus of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" with words about the story of Esther from the Bible.

The lyrics told about how a young Jewish woman named Esther saved her people in ancient Persia from genocide, which is what Tuesday's Purim holiday celebrates.

In the story, Esther was chosen by the king to become his new queen because of her beauty. When the king was nearly deceived by the story's villain named Haman to order the death of all the Jews, Esther stepped forward to reveal her heritage to her husband and ask him to stop the order.

Levy let the rest of the lyrics tell the story.

"There's a man we once knew, didn't like any Jews ... and the king's wife's name was E-e-sther," he sang in a room the congregation meets in at the St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Santa Clarita.

Levy later shared of the consequences the villain faced through his adaptation of a Beatles song.

"They want to hang Haman," Levy and the congregants sang to the tune of "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

He sprinkled the songs throughout his reading of the Magilla, or the Purim story of Esther. Other songs included those that imitated "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "Twist and Shout."

Families sat together at tables where they had earlier feasted on Purim treats like the triangular-shaped pastries called hamantashenand cheese-filled turnovers called burekas. They sang along to the familiar melodies.

"It's always refreshing the way that (Levy) brings in things that are near and dear to you, like the Beatles songs," said Scott Lubell, a congregant from Valencia who attended to the Purim service with his wife and two sons. "It's really kind of what makes it more fun and enjoyable... The whole premise of the Jewish heritage is to retell the story over and over again."

One of his sons said Levy's songs also helped catch the attention of the youth.

"He kind of makes it kid-oriented a little more," said 12-year-old Noah Lubell.

But while the night included food and music, as well as costumes, games and prizes for the children, Scott Lubell added that it was about more than just entertainment. He pinpointed the main message as "the evil of hatred and chastising people."

"You've got Hitler, you've got the genocide in Yugoslavia," he said. "It's an ongoing repeated story, and the whole premise is to remember not to let it repeat itself."

Another congregant found a similar message in the service.

"Be kind to others ... you should treat everybody equal," said congregant Pam Wosk who came with her husband and two young children.

Levy described the holiday as a time to remember that good triumphs over evil. It is also a time for celebration and "acting silly," he said as children ran past him after the service to participate in games, such as a ring toss and a large tic-tac-toe. They were dressed in various costumes as children resembled everything from a king to a grilled cheese sandwich.

"This is the time where on the day of Purim you have a feast and you sing and you drink and you dance," Levy said. "It's about joy."


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