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Change of Jews’ fate celebrated with change of costume

by Ashleigh M. Joplin
Feb 19, 2013

Many children use their Halloween costumes only once. But for Jewish kids there is another opportunity – Purim.

Found in the biblical book of Esther, Purim celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from death at the hands of Haman, the royal advisor to King Ahasuerus of Persia. After a Jew refused to bow to him, Haman tricked the king into signing a decree to have all the Jews in the Persian Empire killed.

“It is the celebration of the defeat of hatred,” said Rabbi Matthew Futterman, of Anshe Emet Synagogue, located on the corner of Halsted Street and Broadway.

In the story, the king’s wife, the Jewish Queen Esther, convinced him to reverse his decision and instead to condemn those who act against the Jews.

“Because they were able to change their fate, the tradition is that Jews celebrate by changing the way they look,” Rabbi Futterman said.

Celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew calendar month of Adar, Purim is commemorated through sending gifts to the poor, sharing food and treats with friends and family, and dressing up in costumes.

“I remember one year when I was 6 I dressed up as a cowboy and I found someone that was dressed as an Indian,” Miles Howell, 22, said. “We spent the whole night terrorizing the party.”

Unlike Halloween, when festivities can be seen outside as Spidermen and Sleeping Beauties roam the streets looking for candy, Purim is generally celebrated in the synagogue or a central meeting place with a party or carnival.

“It’s nice to be in the synagogue and let your hair down,” Rabbi Futterman said. “Most of us [rabbis] are very prim and proper in our services, but we are able to act out a bit at Purim.”

Anshe Emet will host a Purim carnival Sunday, complete with face painting, inflatables and a silent auction. The synagogue also will release a Purim video this week explaining the story of Purim to the sounds of Gangnam Style, a Korean pop song that has become a viral Internet sensation this year.

“We hope that all the kids will think that their rabbis are cool now,” Futterman said.

But all jokes aside, this fun holiday is used to remember an aspect in Jewish history that is not necessarily celebratory.

“That kind of collective punishment is the type of ugly racism that we don’t like to see in any community,” said Rabbi Michael Weinberg of Temple Beth Israel, at Dempster Street and Monticello Avenue.

Charles Mattenson, 62, a father of two, said in comparison with when he was growing up Jewish, children are studying the Bible less and less and don’t connect its teaching to their own lives as much as they should.

“To have a holiday that is less serious and somber in tone makes it [biblical teachings] more palatable for kids to learn about,” Mattenson said.