The story of Purim and how it is celebrated


Daniel Shrives

I act as King Ahasuerus (right) in my temple’s 2020 Purim Shpiel.

Jack Zwirn, Reviews/Opinions Editor

On March 6-7 of this year, Jewish people will celebrate the festival of Purim. Purim is arguably the most popular Jewish holiday as it is one of the more enjoyable and lighthearted holidays.

Because the Jewish calendar is based on the moon cycle, Purim, like all Jewish holidays, falls on a different day each year on our calendar, but it is always celebrated on the thirteenth of the month of Adar on the Jewish calendar. Adar roughly corresponds with the Gregorian month of March.

A typical Purim celebration starts with the retelling of the story of how the festival came to be. In ancient Persia, Jews were free to live peacefully under the rule of King Ahasuerus (ə-HAZ-ew-EER-əs) and Queen Vashti. Unfortunately, Ahasuerus loved to party, and did not show much affection for his wife. Vashti left Ahasuerus, leaving him wondering what to do. His advisor, Haman, came up with the idea of a party so Ahasuerus could choose his next queen.

Soon after, Mordechai, a Jew, and other Jewish citizens of Persia, ran into Haman one day, who forced the Jews to bow down to him. Mordechai refused, saying that Jews only bow down to their own, single God. Haman thought this was outrageous, and came up with a plot to kill the Jews. He went to Ahasuerus with a decree for the king to sign saying that on the thirteenth of Adar, all Jews must leave Persia or be killed. Ahasuerus signed it without reading it fully, because he trusted that Haman was making a good decision.

Mordechai found out about Haman’s evil plan by eavesdropping, and he told his cousin, Esther. They came up with a plan for Esther to go to Ahasuerus’s party to try and become the next Queen of Persia. Ahasuerus chose Esther, and they got married. The thing was, however, that Esther never told Ahasuerus that she was Jewish. She finally did decide to tell him her secret, and about the plot. Ahasuerus didn’t care that she was Jewish, but realized that Haman was an evil man. Ahasuerus had Haman hanged for his plot, which was ultimately never carried out.

Usually, the telling of the story each year is told with a different pop culture theme to make it more enjoyable to watch. I have been in some of these spiels with themes of Hamilton, The 80’s, and Back to the Future. I have also watched ones with Saturday Night Live, The Greatest Showman, and The Muppets themes.

At my temple, each spiel is portrayed as a musical. We have changed the lyrics to so many songs over the years, including different “Hamilton” songs, “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins, “Beat It” by Michael Jackson, “We Will Rock You”/”We Are The Champions” by Queen, and “Can’t Stop The Feeling” by Justin Timberlake. It’s always fun to learn the new song lyrics, except for when you can’t unhear the new lyrics while listening to the actual song.

After telling the story of Purim, it’s party time. People dress up in costumes, and eat hamentashen, which are triangle-shaped cookies with different jams in the middle.

One final thing that my temple does to celebrate is have a carnival with hand-made games for the kids to play. These games include using water guns to put out candles, trying to remove shaving cream from balloons without popping the balloon, and bean bag tossing. Most of the games are themed around Purim or Judaism as a whole. Based on how the kids do at each game, they get tickets that can be put towards prizes like stuffed animals, fidgets, and bouncy balls.

Overall, Purim is a fun holiday filled with partying and getting together with friends to celebrate yet another time in history where Jews have been plotted against by someone else, but the plot was unsuccessful.