Purim is the happiest of all the Jewish holidays. Its date is in accordance with the Jewish calendar; thus, in terms of the Gregorian calendar, it sometimes falls in February and sometimes falls in March. The celebration of the holiday is an expression of thanks to God for the rescue of the Jewish people from the genocidal plan of the Purim story’s villain, Haman, a high-ranking official in the Persian court. In the Scroll or Book of Esther, which tells the story of the miraculous way the Jews of the Persian Empire are saved, Haman casts lots (pur in Hebrew and the source of the holiday’s name) and fixes a date on which the genocide will be perpetrated. With the help of Queen Esther, King Ahasuerus’s wife, Haman is hanged, the evil plan is thwarted and the Jews are saved. Although Purim itself is a joyous occasion, Jews fast on the eve of the holiday. The eve of Purim is called the Fast of Esther and it commemorates the fast Esther takes upon herself before she turns to her husband, the king, and ultimately thwarts Haman’s plot. When the fast ends, Purim begins with all its color and joy. One of the modern-day symbols of Purim is the donning of a mask and a costume; the custom began in the Middle Ages in Venice, apparently, influenced by the local carnival.
Purim is celebrated throughout Israel and is characterized by various traditions and special Purim songs. It is also the only holiday in the Jewish calendar that is celebrated on two separate occasions depending on your location. Throughout the Jewish world and in almost every community in Israel, Purim is celebrated on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar; however, in Jerusalem, it is celebrated on the following day, on the 15th of Adar. One of the holiday’s main customs is a large, festive meal, the Feast of Purim. At this meal, the diners are supposed to drink so heavily that they cannot distinguish between “Blessed be Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman.” The Feast of Purim commemorates the banquet that Esther arranges and to which Haman is invited. Using the device of a festive meal, Esther reveals to her husband Haman’s genocidal plot and ultimately thwarts it.
One of Purim’s loveliest traditions is the sending of ready-to-eat foods – such as chocolates, candies, cakes, cookies, etc. – to one another (friends, neighbors, colleagues). Another important commandment that is part of Purim is the giving of charity to at least two poor people.
One of the most familiar food items associated with Purim is the triangular-shaped baked delicacy known as a hamentasch – Yiddish for Haman’s pocket; in Hebrew it is called ozen Haman, which means “Haman’s ear.” Although usually it has a poppy seed filling, other fillings are also used. Since it is the happiest day in the Jewish calendar, Purim is also the occasion for colorful parties, parades and festivals. In many cities throughout Israel, Purim parades (known as Ad’loyada parades) are an annual event with huge dolls, as well as dancers, colorfully decorated trucks, musical bands and hundreds of children in a variety of costumes. The first such Purim parade was held in 1912 in Tel Aviv and has since become a tradition in Israel. The largest parade takes place in the city of Holon in central Israel. In addition to the parades, masquerade parties are a familiar part of Purim throughout the country; often they are theme parties connected to a certain era (such as the 1950s) or topic (such as science fiction). In Israeli restaurants and coffee shops, you will see waiters and waitresses in various Purim-style costumes entertaining patrons. The competitions for the best Purim costume that are held in workplaces, schools and private parties encourage creativity among the participants and many of the interesting costumes express considerable work and ingenuity.
Purim is also the occasion for plays and performances, many of them revolving around the narrative of the Book of Esther and in yeshivas – academies of advanced Jewish studies – the daily routine of serious study is set aside for one day and is replaced by humorous, pseudo-scholarly sermons that add to the light-hearted atmosphere of this holiday