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 two strong, independent women are at the heart of its story. Indeed, one of them saves the entire Jewish people from imminent destruction.
The story of Purim comes from the Bible, and is set in ancient Persia. Haman, an evil and egotistical minister of the King, 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, incidentally, has replaced king’s first wife, Queen Vashti, who was banished for refusing to dance for the King and his drunk friends. Yay, Vashti!) After a series of plot twists and turns truly reminiscent of a Shakespearean comedy, Esther bravely reveals her true identity to the king. The Jews are spared and Haman is destroyed instead. (Yay, Esther!) For a more detailed version of the story, try Eric Kimmel’s picture book The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale or Queen Esther Saves Her People by Rita Gelman. For a tamer version (both picture books mention capital punishment, gallows-style) try the Shalom Sesame version on youtube.
The holiday of Purim has many rich and joyful traditions. Families gather in the synagogue on Purim eve (Saturday, February 23, 2013) 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.
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.
- 1 stick butter or margarine
- 3/4 c sugar
- 3 c flour (start with 2.5 cups and slowly add the last half cup as needed
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
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): 1/2 lb pitted prunes soaked overnight in water (about an inch higher than the prunes), 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 2:00, 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, February 22 at 11am
During Purim, it is a tradition to send gifts and food to neighbors! Learn about this tradition – called mishloach manot – with Lander Grinspoon Academy kindergarten teacher Amy Meltzer, while reading stories, singing songs, and doing crafts. For pre-school aged children and their caregivers. 257 Prospect Street. Northampton, MA. (FREE)
Friday, February 22 at 5:30pm
“A Night at the Temple —The Marx Brothers Purimshpiel.” Shabbat services, community dinner, and Purimshpiel! RSVP for dinner by Tuesday, Feb. 19th. Temple Anshe Amunim. 413-442-5910. 26 Broad Street, Pittsfield, MA ($)
Saturday, February 23rd from 9-10am
Purim Episode of the Hilltown Family Variety Show airs on 103.3FM WXOJ (Northampton, MA). Mama Doni celebrates the Jewish holiday of Purim as a guest DJ with a fun mix of songs like “I Ate Too Many Hamantashen” by Mindy Kornberg, Mama Doni’s original tunes “Kooky Cookie,” “Hey Man, You’re Acting Like Haman,” to Andy Statman & Bella Fleck’s beautiful instrumental, “Purim.” Celebrating the universal theme of Purim: standing up to adversity, having a voice, self empowerment, Mama Doni shares classic songs of strength like “I Will Survive” and Get Up Stand Up” by Bob Marley. As always, special guest appearances from Mama Doni’s own children who share their favorite thing sbaout Purim! This unique Radio Show will give listeners a flavor of Purim — from the fun and crazy, to the history and traditions of this Jewish holiday. Produced by Doni Zasloff and Eric Lindberg. Encore airs on Sunday, February 24th from 7-8am. Podcast and playlist available here on www.HilltownFamilies.org immediately following Saturday’s broadcast.
Saturday, February 23rd from 5-6pm
Havdalah and Festive Megillah Reading. Temple Anshe Amunim. 413-442-5910. 26 Broad Street, Pittsfield, MA (FREE)
Saturday, February 23rd at 6pm
Megillah reading, Purim shpiel and dance. Greenfield Temple Israel. 413-773-5884. 27 Pierce St. Greenfield, MA
Saturday, February 23 from 6:15pm-8:30ish
Purim Circus Party with Megillah Reading. This family-oriented Purim Party will include a megillah reading interspersed with loony entertainment. The party will include a rockin’ band, amazing jugglers, poi-spinners, walk-around magic, a joke contest and a costume parade. Refreshments will be served. Adults and kids please come in costume. 413-584-3593. Congregation B’nai Israel. 253 Prospect St. Northampton, MA (FREE)
Saturday, February 23 at 6:30pm
Mask-making and Purimspiel. At 6:30, join Congregation Beth Israel to decorate masks (for those who don’t have costumes — or those who do!), and at 7 transition into enjoying a Purim Play, which will feature a creative and fun retelling of the Purim story along with a few verses from the megillah. All ages welcome! Dessert will follow the Purimspiel — feel free to bring cookies if you have some to share. Congregation Beth Israel. 53 Lois Street. North Adams, MA (Free)
Saturday February 23 at 6:30pm
Megillah Reading. Costume Parade & Family Friendly Frolick from 6:30pm. Megillah reading primarily in Hebrew for adults begins at 7:15pm. Bring your own grogger, noisemaker or box of macaroni to shake. Open to the community. At the Jewish Community of Amherst. 413-256-0160. 742 Main Street. Amherst, MA. (FREE)
Saturday, February 23 at 7:45pm
Community Purim Celebration. Come one, come all to a Purim masquerade! Put your best face on ‘cuz there will be prizes for creative costumes. Hear the megillah, snack on delicious (and kid-friendly) hors d’ouvres, and be amazed by Tomm Magician. Havdala at 7:45pm, Megillah at 8pm, followed by the magic show. Sponsored by Chabad House in Amherst, MA. 413-549-4803. Event held at the Holiday Inn Express on Route 9. Hadley, MA ($$)
Saturday, February 23rd from 6-8pm
Purimspiel Beach Boy Style. Everyone is welcome to celebrate Purim Beach Boy Style! Dig out your Hawaiian shirts and join in for a fun evening. Hevreh of Southern Berkshire. 413-528-6378. 270 State Road. Great Barrington, MA (Free)
Sunday, February 24th from 11am-1pm
Purim Carnival. Dress like a queen, twirl a grogger, nibble a hamantashen. Playful and educational activity booths for ages 3-12. Attendees who come in costume, bring BoxTops for Education, or bring food for the Amherst Survival Center will receive an extra shekel for prizes. All children must be accompanied by an adult. Proceeds go to the JCA Children’s Fund. At the Jewish Community of Amherst. 413-256-0160. 742 Main Street. Amherst, MA. ($)
Sunday, February 24th at 11:30am
Purim Carnival Hollywood. Join in for JCC Goes Hollywood at the annual community-wide Purim Carnival. Come dressed in costume and enjoy inflatables, games, prizes, food and more. Springfield JCC. 1160 Dickinson Street. Springfield, MA (>$)
Sunday, February 24th from 3:30-5:30pm
Purim Justice Fair. This family-oriented Purim Festival is for all ages. Festivities will include spirited singing, interactive games and booths including facepainting, bingo, palm reading, blackjack, bowling and ring-toss. All proceeds from the event will go to support local and international social justice and environmental causes. Please bring canned food for a sculpture activity with all food being donated to the Northampton Survival Center. Bring some homemade hamantaschen to share if you want to take part in our hamantaschen bake-off contest and, by all means, come in costume. Beit Ahavah. 130 Pine Street (in Florence Congregational Church). Florence, MA (>$)
Sunday, February 24th at 4:30pm
Purim, Chabad Style. Come one, come all! Let the blessings flow (and the wine!) Fun for the whole family. Come in costume. 4:30pm – Megillah Reading. 5pm – Delicious Purim Seudah Meal. Drop in, the party never stops. Chabad of Northampton. 81 Milton Street. Northampton, MA.
Monday, March 5th from 10:30-11:30am
PJ Pals -Purim celebration for young children (ages 1-5) and their parents/caregivers. Held at The Church On The Hill Chapel. 413-442-4360 x14. 55 Main Street. Lenox, 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]