What is Purim?

Monday, March 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:25 a.m. CDT, Monday, March 9, 2009

COLUMBIA — The high school youth group at Congregation Beth Shalom held a Purim carnival for children to prepare for the most festive holiday on the Jewish calendar. The synagogue was transformed into a game arena, where children received prizes for playing.

When is Purim?
This year, Purim starts Monday at sunset.


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What is Purim?
Known as the most joyous holiday in Judaism, Purim commemorates Esther's rescue of the Jewish people in Shushan (the biblical name for the ancient city of Susa in Iran). Youth group adviser Danny Todtfeld said, “Purim means lots, and it refers to Esther saving a lot of Jews. The story tells how Jews survived and were saved.”
What is the story behind this Jewish holiday?
Nine-year-old Zane Durante explained: “In Sunday school, I learned that there was a guy named Haman that tried to kill the Jews. Esther was queen, and she was scared to tell the king that she was a Jew, but she had to save the Jewish people.”

Purim celebrates the reversal of fortune when the Jewish community of Persia was rescued by the heroic intervention of Esther and Mordecai, according to the Torah. The story teaches that what is sometimes meant for bad may turn out to be good.

Why a Purim carnival?
"Having fun will help them (the children) remember the Purim story," Todtfeld says. "The synagogue turns into an arcade like Chuck E. Cheese."

Organized by the high school youth group, the Purim carnival had more than 10 different games and competitions that the children could participate in. Dan Simon, a parent and member of the congregation, said, "Anytime there is a positive interaction with the synagogue, and the children are able to do fun things, it's important."

How is Purim usually celebrated?
1. Reading or hearing the megillah (Scroll of Esther) at night and by day.
2. Giving charity to at least two needy people.
3. Sending a minimum of two ready-to-eat foods to at least one person.
4. Sitting down for a feast with family.

What are some other customs associated with this holiday?
“When the word Haman is said, graggers, or noisemakers, are shaken to forget about Haman and to draw out the other enemies,” said Todtfeld.
Sarah Kaplan, a sophomore at Rock Bridge High School, said, “In Sunday school, we helped the kids make hamantaschen, triangle-shaped pastries that contain fruit or poppy seed filling, and graggers. The hamantaschen are supposed to resemble Haman's ear, but we tell the kids that they are eating his hat.”

Along with carnivals and parties, children and adult Jews perform entertaining plays and monologues called Purim Spiels to retell the story of Esther.

Why are disguises worn on Purim?
The costumes mark the reversal of the fate and fact that Esther concealed her origins.

Ben Kaplan, a preschool Sunday school teacher at Congregation Beth Shalom said, “The costumes can represent Mordecai or Esther, but they don’t have to. Anything is allowed.”

Maayan Feintuch, a senior at Hickman High School said she isn't dressing up this year. "But my dad is going to be an MU basketball player," she said.

Is Purim only a children’s holiday?
“The carnival is for kids, but Purim is an adult holiday. At huge Jewish universities, it would be a huge party," Todtfeld said.

What type of food is served?
It is customary to give sweet treats on Purim, said Kaplan. "Feasts of hamantaschen, wine and juice will be served" on the holiday. Hamantaschen are usually made to be the centerpieces of Purim baskets, which also contain cakes, cookies, nuts and fruits.

What are some events taking place in Columbia?
At 7 p.m. Monday, the Jewish Student Organization will collaborate with Congregation Beth Shalom for the reading of the megillah (Esther’s scroll), the presentation of a Purim Spiel  and a costume contest.

The organization will also host a costume Purim Party at Upper Crust, beginning at 10:30 p.m. Saturday. This event is open to Jewish and non-Jewish members for $10.

Where can I find out more about Purim?
The Book of Esther explains the how Purim evolved.
Web sites like, and offer more about the Jewish holiday.

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