February 25th is the start of the Jewish Holiday of Purim. To be quite truthful, I had never heard of it until starting to do research for our last newsletter which was about celebrations in the month of February. It amazes me that such a big holiday for a large part of our country’s population is largely unknown to many people outside of the Jewish faith. It just shows how little we know about our neighbors and how we live in our own little worlds!
I’d like to thank Heidi Thibodeau of Enfield, CT and Rachel Rozner of Herndon, VA for sharing information about Purim with me.
Purim has often called the most fun of Jewish holiday.Celebrations vary depending on the regions of the country and each temple will celebrate in a different manner.
The festival of Purim will begin in the evening of Thursday, February 25th and ends in the evening of Friday, February 26. Purim is a celebration of liberation of the oppressed. The Persian king Ahasuerus, urged by his adviser, Haman, planned a mass destruction of the Jewish community about 2500 years ago. The king’s wife, Queen Esther was urged by her adopted father and cousin Mordecai to stop the eradication and rescue the Jewish community. Esther bravely exposed her previously hidden Jewish heritage to her husband and asked him to save her people, which he did.
Said to be a little bit of Mardi Gras, Easter, and Halloween all rolled into one, these are some of the traditions that make the holiday so fun.
Many Jewish holidays incorporate stricter rules, which could include mandatory fasting, but Purim is much more relaxed. There is only a minor fast the day before Purim, which commemorates the three days Esther fasted before approaching the king. Then, the holiday itself is known for a party atmosphere, with big feasts where you can eat and get drunk (within reason, but it is encouraged).
During the synagogue service, the "megillah," or scroll, of Esther is read aloud, telling the story of Esther and Haman. Because the book says Haman's name was "blotted out", everyone in the synagogue stamps their feet, yells, and heckles using "graggers" (ratchet noisemakers) all 54 times his name is read in the story.
A Purim tradition is to send out baskets of food and drink (known as mishloach manot) to family and to the poor. Depending on what neighborhood you inhabit, these gifts also can be called “shalach munis” or simply Purim treats. It’s more than mere “tradition” to give goodies to friends and family. The practice of giving food – specifically two different types -- was mandated as a mitzvah at the suggestion of Queen Esther.
On Purim revelers dress up often to a special theme. People enjoy showing off their costumes; anything from Biblical characters like Moses or Esther and Haman to more traditionally secular costumes as seen at Halloween. In addition, there is dancing and often parades. Children, in particular, have lots of fun at these events, doing crafts, putting together Purim baskets, playing games, and making the noisemakers.
Of course, as with any celebration there are special foods. One of the best treats for Purim are hamantaschen: triangle-shaped cookie pastries with a fruit or savory filling. The treat is said to look like Haman's tri-cornered hat or his ears ("oznei Haman" in Hebrew). Sweet hamantaschen are most popular, with poppy seed, chocolate, date, apricot, or apple filling,
Hamantaschen - yields 36 servings.
1-1/2 cups softened butter.
1 cup white sugar
6 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder.
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 (12 oz.) can poppyseed filling
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the orange juice and vanilla. Mix in the baking powder, then gradually stir in the flour until the dough forms a ball. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into 3-inch circles using a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place circles on the prepared cookie sheets. Spoon 1 teaspoon of filling onto the center of each circle. (Anymore and it will ooze out) Pinch the sides of each circle to form a triangle, covering as much of the filling as possible. The cookies may be frozen on the cookie sheets if desired to help retain their shape while cooking.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until light golden brown. These are best undercooked slightly. Cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.
It's customary to get a bit tipsy on Purim to celebrate Mordechai's triumph at the end of the story. The Purim story ends with the hero, Mordechai, telling the Jewish people to drink and rejoice; the holiday is still celebrated with drinking.
Of course, I had to share a popular tea-based drink.
SWEET 'N' SOUR ICED TEA SHOOTERS - Serves 6
2 (50ml) bottles apple liqueur
2 (50ml) bottles whiskey
23 oz. Cold Green Tea sweetened with 6 teaspoons of honey.
1 large Granny Smith apple, sliced thinly (for garnish)
1 large package Chinese rice crackers or crispy rice noodles
1. Mix ⅓ of an apple liquor bottle and ⅓ of a whiskey bottle in each shot glass.
2. Fill with iced tea. Stir with a chopstick. Garnish with an apple slice.
3. Serve each shot with a handful of rice crackers or rice noodles on a napkin.
Happy Purim to all Jewish brothers and sisters.
Be proud of your history and remember on this day.