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Hazzan Steve's Message

Chag Purim, Chag Purim



“Chag Purim, Chag Purim, chag gadol laYehudim”.  So begins the familiar song.  The Purim Holiday, a big holiday for the Jews.  Coming to you live in Chico, this Saturday evening, the 23rd of March (and the 14th of Adar II), at CBI.


The bits and pieces of Purim include reading the Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther, in the Hebrew Bible right after Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) and before Daniel), having a festive meal, and sharing portions of food with others.  Add to those traditions of “turning things upside down” by dressing in costumes, and using groggers or other noise makers (or stamping your feet) to drown out the name of Haman (booooooooooo!) during the Megillah reading. 


We will tick the boxes on Saturday evening, reading a streamlined English translation of the Megillah.  Costumes and noisemaking are encouraged.  Hamantaschen and libations will be provided.  We will sing out Shabbat and sing in the new week with Havdalah.  


I have a few more things to say, further down the page, about the Megillah in the present moment.  But first, a bit more about hamantaschen and about Havdalah.


Hamantaschen:  I tried the older hamantaschen recipe from The Settlement Cookbook, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.  I made a prune filling based on a recipe in another cookbook, which was very good and worked fine.  I made the easiest and least buttery of the several recipes for kuchen (a slightly sweetened yeast dough enriched with eggs and butter and milk).  Then I followed the directions for forming up the triangular filled buns.  The result - these hamantaschen were very tasty, and the baked dough had nice texture, but the triangles opened up in the heat of the oven.  I think I’ll stick with my mother’s recipe for an unyeasted, cookie-like dough.  I gave you that recipe in my last missive.  


Havdalah:  The traditional beginning of Havdalah, before the blessing over the wine, ends with a quote from Megillat Esther 8:16.  This reads “LaYehudim hayita orah v’simkha v’sa-son vi-kar”.  For the Jews, there was light and happiness and joy and honor.  To this we add “Keyn tiyeh lanu”, so may it be for us.  There are lots of melodies for these lines; a favorite of mine is by Noam Katz.  We will sing this on Saturday evening.  You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YA1Ky1CNLSE


A few words about Megillat Esther:  The story is well known.  The King of Persia deposes the queen, Vashti, and seeks out a new queen.  Mordechai sends his niece/ward/adopted daughter to the capital to enter the queen contest.  The King falls in love (or lust) with Esther, who becomes queen.  Haman seeks to destroy the Jews.  Esther begs the King to spare the Jews, and for some reason the only way to counter the slaughter orders Haman already has given is to authorize the Jews of the Persian empire to defend themselves.  Haman and his sons and lots and lots of others are killed.  Purim is established as a holiday through the generations.


This story is not history in any real way.  It is alternately tragic/outrageous/overwrought and inspiring and very funny.  It has spoken to us for so long because we as a people have experienced subjugation and exile and close calls with complete annihilation.  Revenge fantasy dressed in the costume of farce has been a way for us to feel empowered and to pretend for a day or two that we are safe.  


It is worth contemplating how the Purim story lands for us as a people, and individually, in the moment in real life in which we find ourselves.  Our people have been attacked again.  The State of Israel, which is not powerless, has responded in the way its leaders have chosen.  Purim comes to us this year in this context.  Difficult Bible stories cannot be ignored or rewritten to suit our momentary desires.  The Purim story, like the rest of Torah writ large, must be read and reread and turned and turned and grappled with.  


Having said that we do not get to rewrite our received texts, we do get to write and share midrash.  The Shalom Center in Philadelphia has collected midrashic reimaginings of Chapter 9 of Megillat Esther, as alternatives to the revenge story.  Here is a link to the Shalom Center page: https://theshalomcenter.org/chapter9project 


With blessings for a week of peace and wholeness and the joy of community celebration,


Hazzan Steve


 החזן שלמה זלמן עיט בן מרדכי מרגלן

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