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The Unknown Story Behind Purim

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The Unknown Story Behind Purim

Photo credit: Penny Scott

Photo credit: Penny Scott

Photo credit: Penny Scott

By Talia Gerstenfeld, Staff Writer

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Few have ever heard of Purim and even less know the story behind it. Purim is, in fact, a Jewish holiday that celebrates the defeat of Haman two thousand years ago, a man who planned a scheme to kill all the Jews.

It sounds like an interesting story, but according to Naomi Ellis, a freshman at Santa Barbara High School and a member of Congregation B’nai Brith, many are still unaware of its origins and purpose.

“There are very few people in my school who even know what it is,” Ellis said. “Not many people know about Jewish holidays or anything, not like people know about the Christian holidays.”

The Purim story takes place in the kingdom of Shushan thousands of years ago. King Ahasuerus had just chosen a new queen, Queen Esther. However, the king was not aware that Esther was Jewish. One day Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, came to visit her bringing terrible news that Hamen was planning to exterminate all the Jews. Queen Esther told the king about Haman’s plot and revealed that she was Jewish. King Ahasuerus did not want to see Esther or any of her people die. Furious with Hamen, King Ahasuerus ordered him to be hung.

Although this holiday is not as well known as Hanukkah, Purim is just as important and can be even more enjoyable.

Casey Fineberg is a Dos Pueblos freshman, who also attends the Congregation B’nai Brith, Santa Barbara’s largest Jewish temple.

“Purim means to me that when all of our temple gathers together to celebrate the story it’s like a time to celebrate a community as we do with most of our holidays,” Fineberg said.

The story is often retold every year on the holiday and many of the versions are modified for kids. The story is acted out with fun costumes and songs to get children engaged, serving as an entertaining way to teach them about the history of their religion. When the story is told, every time Haman’s name is said, people boo and rattle their noise makers, as he was an enemy to the Jewish people.

“I think it’s important to keep the tradition alive and to remind ourselves of the story and what the Jews overcame,” Fineberg said. “Our congregation does have actual services that read the original story to truly teach the actual meaning, but for little kids we have the spiel, where all the adults dress up and do a kid friendly play, and then we have the carnival.”

Following the retelling, many Jewish communities hold a Purim carnival to play games that relate to the story and to engage the kids. In Santa Barbara, Congregation B’nai Brith does exactly that.

Jennifer Lewis has been at Temple B’nai Brith for many years and she helps coordinate events at the carnival.

“I’ve been a member here for twenty years and there’s always been a carnival,” Lewis said.

Every year at the temple, the ninth grade class is assigned to put the carnival together. They come up with different games that relate to the holiday and have to recruit younger grades to volunteer on the day of. Everyone starts planning the event a couple months in advance. They show up the night before to prepare and then they come early Saturday morning to set up while the kids are listening to the Purim spiel.

Planning, coordinating volunteers, and ensuring things run smoothly during the event is hard work, but a valuable experience for the teens in charge.

“I think it’s really important to keep the little kids engaged and to build on to the story each year,” Fineberg said. “Cause it’s a kind of intense story for little kids, but the carnival is a way to express the story without getting too deep.”

Most carnival goers are members of the temple or Jewish, but anyone is welcome to come and enjoy the holiday and festivities.

“We love sharing our holidays with anybody who is interested to learn about them,” Lewis said. “The more we know about different cultures and religions, the more we can be tolerant and understanding, so I think that would be really neat to share Jewish holidays with more people who aren’t Jewish.”

The Purim Carnival is hosted at the end of February every year and continues to provide an opportunity to earn community service hours, explore Jewish culture, and help bring the story to life.

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