By Francesca Norsen Tate
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Purim, one of the most festive Jewish holidays of the year, is coming up this weekend, and the holiday is being celebrated by congregations throughout Brooklyn.
The story behind Purim can be found in the biblical Book of Esther. The book unfolds the story of how Esther, a young Jewish woman living in Persia, saves her people from death at the hands of a key administrator named Haman.
Some Biblical scholars believe that the Book of Esther takes place during the Persian Exile; others place it during the Maccabean period. Even though the name of the God is never mentioned, the continued survival of the Jewish people is the major point of the story.
In the story, Queen Esther gains the favor of her husband, King Ahasuerus, after another woman of the court (Vashti) refused to obey his command. Queen Esther learns of a plot to assassinate King Ahasuerus and thus saves his life.
Haman is promoted to be a chief officer in the court and is angry when the other attendants—foremost among them, Mordecai—refuse to bow to him. Haman then plots to kill the people in the king’s realm “whose laws are different from any other people,” meaning the Jews.
Mordecai learns of the plot and informs Esther, who courageously asks for an audience with her husband at a time when women—including the queen—only stood in the king’s presence when summoned. She prepares a banquet to which Haman is invited, then exposes Haman’s plan to execute her people. Instead of Haman being victorious, he is hung on the very gallows that he had built for Mordecai.
Jews celebrate their survival by dressing up characters from the Book of Esther and use noisemakers to drown out the name of Haman. Merrymaking and parody are the order of the day. Here are some celebrations planned for Downtown-area communities:
Congregation B’nai Avraham (Modern Orthodox) has two Purim celebrations this weekend, each with a different theme. A “Rock ’n Roll Masquerade,” 1950s style, takes place Saturday night at the synagogue (117 Remsen St.) with readings at 6 and 8:45 p.m. The partying begins at 9 p.m. Costumes are mandatory. The next day, B’nai Avraham holds a Family Purim Hoedown at the Bossert Hotel with square dancing and a western-style dinner. A 4:30 Megillah (Book of Esther) reading precedes the 5 p.m. party. For more information, call the synagogue at (718) 596-4840, ext. 11.
All are welcome to the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue’s Annual Purim Carnival. Family fun rules on Sunday, Feb. 24, from noon to 3 p.m. at the Reform synagogue, at 131 Remsen St., including carnival games, pony rides, cotton candy, bake sale, and more. To learn more, visit www.bhsbrooklyn.org/purim.
Park Slope’s Congregation Beth Elohim (Reform) joins forces with other congregations, including Brooklyn Jews, Shir Hama’alot, Altshul, Mishkan Minyan and Prospect Heights Shul, for a community Purim celebration and “wacky traditional evening service, Megillah reading and Havdalah [a ceremony closing the Sabbath].”
The fun starts at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, Feb. 23, with the reading. Then, the party starts at 9:15 in the rotunda with drinks, hamentaschen (triangle-shaped mini-cakes), of course, party music and friendship.
And, because no Purim celebration is complete without charity to the wider community, Congregation Beth Elohim will collect financial contributions towards CBE's continuing Sandy relief efforts. Congregation Beth Elohim is at 274 Garfield Place in Park Slope.