Saturday, November 1, 2008


You can read my summary of the Purim story here.

Purim is celebrated in the Jewish synagogue. Since one of the underlying themes of the story is "people are not always what they seem," many Jews wear costumes for the holiday (quite a few also get extraordinarily drunk, but I digress.) Some dress up as characters from the story, others simply dress up. And then there are the Americans.

There are a lot of American Jews living in Jerusalem. I attended a local synagogue for Purim that was largely attended by Americans. It looked... just like Hallowe'en (minus the glut of candy.) There were clowns and cowboys and railroad engineers. I heard people speaking American English everywhere. It was strange.

Jews commemorate the story of Purim by listening to the story as it's read aloud, in a sing-song chant called cantillation that I find haunting and exotic. Everyone sits and enjoys the story until the reader says the name "Haman." And then...


The entire synagogue erupts in a startling cacophony of sound. I was caught off-guard, though not surprised. It's just that I don't speak a whole lot of Hebrew and I wasn't keeping up very well with the reading. I glanced around, wide-eyed and smiling as I understood that the pandemonium was just part of the ritual.

The idea is to obliterate the name of evil, namely Haman. So you stomp and clap and scream your heart out at each and every mention of his name. It makes for a long night.

As a side note, there is a neat little cookie they serve just on this holiday. They are called Hamantashen, or Haman's ears. It's a circle folded in on itself so it has three points, and it's filled with fruit preserves or seeds and nuts. Apparently the cannibalistic overtones of this tasty little snack don't seem to bother many (or they're too drunk to care.)

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