The Peretz Centre has celebrated Purim in a variety of ways. Usually, our school programs have a party that includes a reading of the megillah (the story of Purim), sometimes conventional, sometimes humourous; costumes; hamentashn and games. Sometimes our monthly Fraytik tsu nakht Shabbes dinner has morphed into an adult Purim party, again with costumes, hamentashn, and alcohol.
From our How to talk Jewish to your kids: A resource guide for secular progressive families, by Daniel Bakan, PhD:
The festival of Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (late winter/early spring). The festival marks the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia, when they were rescued by Queen Esther (a young Jewish woman chosen as a bride by the King of Persia) and her Uncle Mordechai from the king’s advisor’s plot to destroy the Jews.
Commonly accepted as a “non-fiction” account, many scholars believe the holiday has its roots in ancient fertility festivals and masquerades that may predate Jewish history. In the traditions of Jewish Mysticism, Purim is seen as an archetypical holiday about the defeat of evil in the world, and the story contains many symbols that refer to esoteric texts and Kabbalistic traditions. It is also a time of revelry and drunkenness. Maimonides wrote: “What is the obligation of the [Purim] feast? That one should eat meat … and drink wine until he is drunk and falls asleep from drunkenness” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Megillah, 2:15). It is also told that on Purim, one should get so drunk that one cannot tell the difference between Haman (the bad guy) and Mordechai (one of the heroes).
Aside from the drunkenness of the adults, this holiday is traditionally a wonderful time for children, with costumes, games, special foods, parties and celebrations. (One special food eaten at this holiday is hamentashn, a triangular pastry pocket (thought to be the shape of Haman’s hat) with a sweet filling that could be prunes, poppyseed, nuts, jam, chocolate, or other similar filling.)
The story of Purim however, can be a bit challenging for Secular Humanist Jews trying to “heal the trauma” that is deeply embedded in our traditions from centuries of persecution. There is a joke that all Jewish holidays are about the theme “They tried to kill us, they didn’t, lets eat”, and this can indeed be seen as one of the themes of Chanukah and Passover. Purim is the epitome of this narrative, and if we are trying to raise our children to connect with the joy of being Jewish rather than the tragedy, we may have to be a bit creative with how we tell the tale.