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Community prepares for Purim

Judaism: Congregation gets ready for time of traditional celebration

Posted: March 19, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 19, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Rabbi Choni Marozov shows off his dancing moves at Chabad of SCV’s Purim Party last year.

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As spring approaches, the Jewish community is readying for one of the most festive events on the Hebrew calendar: the celebration of Purim.

“It’s meant to be a fun time,” said Rabbi Mark Blazer with the Temple Beth Ami. “It’s the craziest day of the year.”

“It’s the only day of the year when people are encouraged to go overboard to excess,” he said.

There is a legend behind the holiday’s history, which is told in the Book of Esther, also known as Megillah.

Esther was a beautiful, young Jewish woman, who became the favorite wife in a Persian king’s harem. Her Jewish heritage was a secret.

As the story goes, one day the king, deceived by the story’s villain Haman, ordered to put all Jews to death.

Esther, risking her life, revealed her identity to the king and convinced him to revoke the order.

The Jewish people were saved.

“This day should have been a day of horrible sadness,” Blazer said. “But it turned out to be a day of pure joy.”

“Purim is when we’re celebrating our history,” said Gary Jacobs, spokesman for Congregation Beth Shalom.

In the past, there were many examples when the story’s plot became too real: the genocide of Jews in World War II is one of the most recent cases.

“Jewish people were almost wiped out by Nazis. It was horrible,” said Blazer. “But we survived, and we can celebrate that.”

Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Adar on the Hebrew calendar, which always comes on different days on the Western calendar.

This year, the holiday will take place on Sunday.

“Purim is celebrated with four commandments: reading the story of Purim, sharing with the poor, giving gifts to friends and enjoying the meal together,” said Rabbi Choni Marozov with Chabad of SCV.

Reading the Book of Esther is an important part of the celebration.

“We pass our stories from generation to generation,” Jacobs said.

Most congregations try to take a creative approach to the storytelling. Some put together a play; others incorporate the plot into song lyrics.

“The story is always done in a fun way,” Jacobs said. “There is always a little drama, a little comedy.”

Temple Beth Ami chooses a special, surprise theme for the holiday each year.

Last year’s theme was the ’70s, so people dressed up accordingly, and the story of Esther was sung to the beat of disco music.

One of the most exciting parts of Purim is a carnival. The concept is similar to Western culture’s Halloween; but the costumes don’t have to be scary — they’re intended to be fun.

“Preparation for the holiday can be a lot of work; people put hours and hours into this,” Blazer said.

The holiday is often celebrated for two days. Saturday evening has an event for adults and older children, and Sunday morning children participate in a masquerade.

“We are going to have a carnival with games, live music, arts, crafts, bounce house, slides, a Velcro wall and a sports contest,” Jacobs said.

It’s a great opportunity for families to get together and enjoy, he said.

Besides the fun part, Purim passes along an important message, Marozov said.

“The story of Purim is the story of Jewish people being miraculously saved,” he said. “It’s when good prevails over evil. It’s an appropriate message today.”

Blazer said anti-Semitism is still a big issue today.

“We have a government in Iran that openly threatens Jewish people,” he said. “We had Jewish kids being threatened at school just two years ago at Golden Valley High School. Anti-Semitism is still a reality.”

Blazer believes that Purim passes an important message to young people. The story of Esther shows that the dark side of humans being beaten, he said.

“Prejudiced behavior has bad consequences. We try to teach our kids this,” he said. “It’s horrible to live in fear,” Blazer said. “There are scary things out there. But if you’re able to stop and laugh at them, you can move on with your life.”

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