If you’re lucky enough to be in Israel during Purim (which typically takes place in early March), you’re going to have a blast! Just don’t forget to bring your camera in order to catch some of the amazingly colorful costumes Israelis wear, both old and young alike, as well as some very lively events that take place throughout Israel.
This is a holiday in which Israelis really get to let their hair down, as it historically marks the day the Jewish people in the Persian Empire were saved from genocide in the 4th Century BCE. In fact, it’s considered a traditional mitzvah (a commandment) to celebrate and even have one too many to drink!
The Story of Purim
The story behind Purim is described in the Book of Esther, which Jews read at this time of the year in order to recall the tragedy that almost fell upon them.
The Book of Esther tells the tale of how Haman, the evil advisor to King Ahasuerus, wanted to kill all the Jews in his master’s kingdom. Haman’s hatred for the Jews came about because one Jew in particular, Mordechai, refused to bow to him as he passed in the street. This really irked Haman, and he convinced King Ahasuerus to annihilate the Jews in his kingdom.
There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every other people’s, and they do not observe the king’s laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them.
King Ahasuerus really wasn’t concerned by Haman’s hatred and rage, and had other things on his mind – like hosting bigger and better banquets at his palace – so he gave the go-ahead to Haman to do as he wished. Of course, the King wasn’t aware was unaware that his wife, Queen Esther, was Jewish – and that Mordechai was her cousin, who had helped raise her as a child.
But it was Queen Esther who had her King’s ear, and she persuaded the King to revoke Haman’s ruling, and instead kill Haman and his sons – who were duly hanged on the gallows prepared for Mordechai. And the Jewish people were saved!
The holiday’s name – Purim – means “lots” and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre of the Jews.
What NOT to miss at Purim
There are plenty of things to enjoy at Purim, including special triangular shaped Purim cookies known as Haman’s Ears (or Hamantashen), which recall the three-cornered hat (yes, not his ears!) Haman was famous for wearing. They are typically filled with chocolate, dates, or poppy seeds. And yes, they are naughtily delicious!
Throughout Israel there are parties and street parades, which are noisy, colorful, and very unique. Almost everyone gets dressed up in almost every kind of costume you can imagine – it is considered a MUST for Jews as they try to emulate themselves as God, who hid his presence behind the events that occurred in the story of Purim (in the Book of Esther, God is strangely – or perhaps not so strangely – not mentioned even once), and has remained hidden (but ever-present) in Jewish history since the times of the destruction of the first Temple.
Boaz’s Purim Insight
Ahh, Purim! The Jewish holiday that EVERYBODY loves! Great food – though way too many Purim cookies for those of us counting the calories – and great fun for all ages! Another unique Israeli moment that you should try and include in your amazing Holy Land experience!