Purim in Western MA
Jewish heroines in the Bible are few and far between. The upcoming holiday of Purim is unique amongst Jewish holidays in that strong, independent women are at the core of the story – one of them even saves the entire Jewish people from imminent destruction. The story of Purim comes from the Bible, and takes place in ancient Persia. An evil minister of King Achasverosh concocts a plan to destroy all of the Jews in the empire because they refuse to bow down to him. Little does Haman know that the new queen, Esther, is herself a Jew. Esther has replaced Achashverosh’s first wife, Queen Vashti, who was banished for refusing to dance for the King and his drunk friends (Yay, Vashit!). After a series of plot twists and turns truly reminiscent of a Shakesperean comedy, Esther saves her people and Haman is destroyed instead. (For a great picture book version of the story, try Eric Kimmel’s The Story of Esther, which came out last year. You can also hear him read it aloud here:
The holiday of Purim has many rich and joyful traditions. Families gather in the synagogue on Purim eve (Wednesday, March 7, 2012) where the story of Esther is recited aloud in Hebrew, from a scroll known as a megillah. During the reading it is customary to drown out Haman’s name each time it appears in the story with loud noisemakers known in yiddish as graggers. Adults and children wear costumes to the megillah reading; these disguises are a reminder that God’s miracles are often worked behind-the-scenes, or in disguise. Often the story of Purim is also acted out in a humorous skit known as a Purim shpiel. Other traditions include giving gifts to the poor and exchanging baskets of food with friends and neighbors (John McCain once inaccurately referred to Purim as the Jewish Halloween, presumably because of the costumes and treats. Amongst the many difference is that children arrive at their neighbors’ doors offering treats rather than demanding them!).
One traditional delicacy that can almost always be found in a Purim basket are the three-cornered fruit-filled pastries known as Hamentashen. (The word means Haman’s hat, and recalls Haman’s triangular shaped headdress.) Every year, my daughters and I bake several batches of the recipe that’s been handed down for generations in my family. My mother, whom my girls call Bubbe, yiddish for grandmother, used to make them with her Bubbe in her kitchen in Boro Park, Brooklyn. Here’s the recipe – they are, quite honestly, the best hamentashen I’ve ever eaten.
- 3 cups flour
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 stick butter or margarine
- ½ tsp salt
- ¾ cup sugar
Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs. Mix. Add the dry ingredients (Sometimes I need to use my hands to get it thoroughly mixed.). Form a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Prune Filling (my great- grandmother’s specialty): ½ lb pitted prunes soaked overnight in water (about an inch higher than the prunes) then cook with a little sugar and cinnamon until very soft. Mash to break up the prunes (I sometimes puree it with an immersion blender, but it’s not necessary.). Squeeze in a little lemon to taste.
Roll the dough, and cut out circles ~3” diameter (I use a drinking class for this.). To see how to fill and fold the pastries, watch this video from Shalom Sesame, made by the Sesame Street Workshop (Folding starts at around 2 minutes, but the whole video is worth watching.).
Bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes, until lightly brown around the edges.
PURIM EVENTS IN WESTERN MA
Here’s a round up of Purim events in Western Massachusetts. Hope to see you at one or more!
Friday, March 2nd at 5:30pm — “Purim Shpiel,” the annual presentation by Temple Anshe Amunim’s “Broad Street Players.” This year’s theme is “A Purim Home Companion,” a parody of the public radio hit program, “A Prairie Home Companion.” The production, under the direction of temple music director Alan Gold, will include klezmer and other music from local musicians and takeoffs on “Home Companion” staples such as the “Powder Milk Bisquit Song” and “The News from Lake Wobegone” (which will tell the Purim story.). The show follows the Friday night shabbat service, and includes a pizza and hamentashen dinner. Call 413-442-5910 for dinner reservations. 26 Broad Street, Pittsfield, MA ($)
Saturday, March 3rd from 4-5:30pm — PJ Havdallah at Hevreh of Southern Berkshires, will host a PJ Havdallah Service for children 8 and younger with siblings invited. The program will feature the theme of Purim. The service, which is co-sponsored by the PJ Library, will feature a cozy Jewish story time as well as crafts and snacks followed by a brief Havdallah ritual. Pajamas and stuffed animal friends encouraged as is an RSVP. For further information, please call 413-528-6378 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, 270 State Road, Great Barrington, MA(Free)
Sunday, March 4th from 11am-4pm —Join the National Yiddish Book Center for hamantashen, a costume contest, interactive workshop, and a lively performance of the story of Purim! “Esther: A One-Act Opera” begins at 2PM, with an upbeat score, juggling, dancing, and wry, poignant lyrics that recount the story of Purim for the whole family. Come at noon and attend an interactive drama workshop led by Leslie Elias, artistic director of Grumbling Gryphons Traveling Children’s Theater. Dance, sing, and parade in a Purim Pageant adorned in festive masks and costumes. Free, pre-registration suggested. www.yiddishbookcenter.org. National Yiddish Book Center, 1021 West Street, Amherst, MA ($)
Monday, March 5th from 10:30-11:30am — PJ Pal: Purim celebration for young children (ages 1-5) and their parents/caregivers. contact Susan Frisch Lehrer, 413-442-4360, Ext. 14, email@example.com. Held at The Church On The Hill Chapel, 55 Main St., Lenox, MA
Wednesday, March 7th from 5-7:15pm — Purim at JCA: 5-6:30 Purim activities, story and family service – make a grogger, design a mask, prepare your shpeil and enjoy a pizza dinner; 6:30-7:15 Family service: bring your own grogger, noisemaker, or box of macaroni to shake! Start with a costume parade, read the megillah, and do some shpeiling. contact the Jewish Community of Amherst at 413-256-0160 or http://www.j-c-a.org. 742 Main Street. Amherst, MA (Free)
Wednesday, March 7th at 6:30pm — Megilla Reading: Family program with musician and puppeteer Felicia Sloin. Contact Information: CBI religious school 413-584-3593 ext 203. Congregation B’nai Israel 253 Prospect St. Northampton, MA (Free)
Wednesday, March 7th at 7pm — Chabad House Family Purim Party! Megillah reading, costume party, yummy refreshments including hamantashen, entertainment and prizes for children. march 7th 7pm Chabad House Family Purim Party! contact: Yocheved Adelman 413-549-8749 Holiday Inn Express Route 9. Hadley, MA (Free)
Wednesday, March 7th at 7pm — Purim service at Temple Anshe Amunim, highlighted by Rabbi Josh Breindel’ comic reading of the megillah. Call 413-442-5910. 26 Broad Street, Pittsfield, MA (Free)
Wednesday, March 7th from 7-8pm — Purim shpiel…with Puppets! Our annual celebration of the festival of Purim. We’ll host a play which tells the Purim story; come in costume, make noise with your graggers when Haman is mentioned, eat hamentashen, and make merry! This year’s spiel will be performed by puppets made by several CBI members and friends. www.cbiweb.org Congregation Beth Israel, 53 Lois Street, North Adams, MA (Free)
Friday, March 9th at 6pm — Beit Ahavah Purim Megillah Reading and Kabbalat Shabbat Service led by Rabbi Riqi Kosovske contact 587-3770 for information www.beitahavah.org 130 Pine St. Florence, MA (Free)
Sunday, March 11th from 10:30am-12:30pm —Purim Carnival at JCA- Dress like a queen, twirl a gragger, nibble a hamantashen! Playful and educational activity booths for ages 3-12. Attendees who come in costume, bring Box Tops for Education, or bring food for the Amherst Survival Center will receive an extra shekel for prizes. Refreshments available at additional cost. All children must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, contact The Jewish Community of Amherst at 413-256-0160 or www.j-c-a.org 742 Main Street. Amherst, MA ($)
Sunday, March 11th from 11:30am-1:30pm — Purim Carnival: Celebrate Purim with games, prizes, hamentashen and costumes Everyone is welcome Contact Information. CBI religious school 413-584-3593 ext 203 Congregation B’nai Israel 253 Prospect St. Northampton, MA (Free)
Sunday, March 11th from 3:30-5:30pm — Beit Ahavah Community School and Purim Justice Fair! – Games, music and the famous Hamantashen Bake-Off Contest – Bring a tray of your favorite treats. Proceeds to support your favorite Tzedakah organizations. 130 Pine Street, Florence, MA (>$)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy is a Kindergarten teacher at Lander-Grinspoon Academy in Northampton, MA, and the author of two children’s books, A Mezuzah on the Door, and The Shabbat Princess. She writes the blog Homeshuling for Beliefnet, and a monthly column for the Jewish parenting site Kveller.com. Amy lives in Northampton, MA with her husband and two daughters.
[Photo credit: (ccl) Joshua Bousel]