By Emily J Weitz
If you’ve never celebrated Purim, you’re missing out on one of the best parties of the year. When Rabbi Leon Morris of Sag Harbor’s Temple Adas Israel dubbed it “Mardi Gras for Jews,” it pretty much summed up the feasting, storytelling, and overall joyful sentiment that accompanies Purim.
“On a very basic level,” says Morris, “it’s a topsy-turvy carnivale-esque holiday filled with laughter, parody, sweets, gifts and masquerade. On a deeper level, it’s about how to construct a life of faith in a world where God’s presence often appears to be absent.”
To honor both the lightness and the significance of Purim, the temples in the area are planning to honor the four mitzvot, or commandments, of the holiday in their own special ways.
The first mitzvah is the Reading of the Scroll of Esther, or the Megillah.
“Esther is the great heroine of this story,” explains Morris. “She risks her own life to intervene on behalf of her people and succeeds.”
Goldie Baumgarten of the Chabad in East Hampton adds that “Purim is a time that celebrates the victory of good over evil, the victory of the innocent being protected by God, and the importance of faith.”
In this spirit, Temple Adas Israel, the Chabad, and the Jewish Center in East Hampton will all have Megillah readings on Wednesday evening. The reading is one of the more serious of the mitzvoth, but Shelley Lichtenstein of the Jewish Center promises that “It will still be a fun evening, with celebration and chocolate.”
Esther’s great accomplishment in the Megillah is that she protects her people. But Rabbi Morris explains that “Esther is a complex and curious character. She is in many ways a ‘hidden Jew’,” he says.
“She is thoroughly assimilated into the culture of the country in which she lives, yet identifies with her people when the moment calls.”
The name Esther means “hidden,” and Morris says this refers not only to Esther’s hidden identity but also the fact that “God is hidden throughout this story, without God’s name appearing even once.”
Readings are an integral part of most Jewish traditions, as these texts have been passed down for thousands of years as a way to keep the stories alive. But just as important on Purim is the celebration – a different way to honor memory and history. At Temple Adas Israel, “Purim Fest” will include family activities and food for all. The energetic congregation has created a new way to celebrate this year, with a local beer tasting, co-sponsored by Edible East End.
“Purim is traditionally celebrated by drinking to celebrate the deliverance of the Jews in days of Mordecai and Esther,” says Morris. “In fact, in the Talmud it says that one drinks until he or she doesn’t know the difference between ‘Blessed be Mordecai’ and ‘Cursed be Haman’ (the villain of the Purim story). We thought a contemporary and local twist on this would be a local beer-tasting. This will encourage responsible drinking while sharing the joy of the holiday with one another.”
The Jewish Center will host its annual carnival in honor of Purim, and this year there will be a kids’ rock concert in addition to the usual face painting and balloon makers.
“Purim is a joyous time,” says Lichtenstein. “Kids are encouraged to dress up and be silly. It’s a big party.”
Of Rick Recht, the Jewish kids’ rock star that will perform, she says, “He uses Jewish prayers and text in contemporary form. The kids sing about doing good deeds and about Israel, and it’s really exciting. Each age level gets a song they sing on stage with him.”
The other two mitzvoth on Purim are making offerings to the poor and sending food to friends. The temples organize donations, with charities as local as the Sag Harbor Food Pantry (Temple Adas Israel) and as distant as a charity in Israel that brings a Purim dinner to those who cannot afford it (Chabad).
“It’s all in the spirit of bringing joy to each other,” says Baumgarten. “It’s a holiday of joy, celebration and salvation.”
All of the congregations are throwing their doors open wide to members of the community, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. To learn more about the Purim festivities in the area, check out the temples’ respective web sites. Chabad of the Hamptons is at www.chabadofeastend.com, Temple Adas Israel at www.templeadasisrael.com, and the Jewish Center of the Hamptons at www.jcoh.org.