- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Chaim Hollander of Silver Spring is making a lot of noise in school today, but he is not getting into trouble. Chaim, 12, and other students at the Hebrew Day School of Montgomery County in Silver Spring are celebrating Purim.
The Jewish holiday began at sundown yesterday.
"You remember the story of a long time ago and how people were mean to Jews," Chaim says. "It's important to remember about our past, so you don't forget you are Jewish."
Purim celebrations can include readings of the "Megillah," or the book of Esther in the Bible. Every time the story's villain, Haman, is mentioned, listeners are supposed to drown out his name with booing or stomping. Some participants also rattle noisemakers called "groggers."
As the story goes, the Jewish people face a crisis around 474 B.C. when a royal decree of Persian King Xerxes orders their extermination at the suggestion of Haman, the prime minister.
A Jewish maiden named Esther is queen of the Persian Empire. In the face of personal peril, Esther uses her influence to approach the king in defense of her people. The story reaches its climax with the fall of Haman and the triumph of the Jews over their enemies.
The ninth chapter of the book of Esther outlines the first occurrence of Purim and how future generations of Jewish people should celebrate the victory. The holiday's name comes from the word "Pur," which means "lot." "Purim" refers to the evil doings of Haman, who casts lots to determine on which day he will kill the Jews.
Along with listening to the story of Esther, the Jewish people are commanded to give gifts of food called "mishloach manot" baskets. The baskets often include hamantaschen, which are small triangular pastries that symbolize Haman's hat.
Purim observations also include gifts to the poor and a festive meal. Some celebrate by dressing as characters from the story of Esther.
Sondra Mederrick, director of the nursery school at the Silver Spring Learning Center, says Purim is a festive time, when the school holds an assembly with students in costume, singing songs such as "I Am a Little Grogger," "Nash, Nash, Hamantash" and "Purim Hat Dance."
"It strengthens the children's Judaic identity," Mrs. Mederrick says. "It happens to be one of the merriest and most joyful Jewish holidays. It's a fun time for the children."
Alongside the holiday's cheerful nature are the spiritual lessons in the story of Esther, says Rabbi Herzel Kranz of Silver Spring Jewish Center, who heads an Orthodox congregation.
Esther is the only book in the Bible that never mentions God by name, says Rabbi Kranz, but it is understood that God works behind the scenes for the deliverance of the Jewish people.
"We have a tendency to disconnect it from God's control and oversight … . But what we take to be natural is not that natural. It's a miracle," Mr. Kranz says.
The existence of evil also is a major theme in the book of Esther, Mr. Kranz says. Wickedness is portrayed through the life of Haman, who eventually is hanged on the same gallows that he prepares for Esther's relative, Mordecai.
"In America, we don't like to say there is such a thing as evil," Rabbi Kranz says. "We like to make everything morally relative, but there is evil in the world, unfortunately."
The manner in which Haman contemplated to destroy the Jews was reflected in the Holocaust.
Julius Streicher, a leader of anti-Semitism under Adolf Hitler, was sentenced to death through the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany. Before he was hanged, Streicher shouted, "Purim Fest 1946."
These lessons may be especially relevant in America today.
"We have all these anti-war protests," Mr. Kranz says. "We have difficulty understanding there is such a thing as right and wrong … as much as you try to dance around it, there is evil in the world. … Few people are willing to take responsibility."
Purim does not have the recognition in the United States as the Jewish holidays of Hanukkah and Passover, which tend to fall near the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter, respectively.
Assistant Rabbi Jeremy Winaker at the Conservative synagogue Adas Israel Congregation in Northwest says he and others have noted a rise in Purim's popularity among Jewish youths, who enjoy the holiday's good-natured excess.
The Talmud states that Jews should be so merry on Purim that they drink alcohol to the point of not knowing the difference between "cursed is Haman" and "blessed is Mordecai." However, sensitivity to alcohol abuse has caused many to skip this part of the holiday.
Mr. Winaker hopes to spread awareness of Purim and its positive messages. "Like Esther, we have to take an active role in the affairs of our larger community," he said.
Some non-Jews, or Gentiles, observe the holiday to honor the Jewish people.
Scott Brown, congregational leader of Son of David Congregation in Germantown, heads a Messianic Jewish synagogue that includes Jewish and Gentile members. The congregation is staging a Purim play, "East Side Story," which presents the narrative of Esther through the songs of "West Side Story."
Messianic Jews maintain their religious identity and worship style, but accept "Yeshua," or Jesus of Nazareth, as the promised Messiah of Israel and savior of the world.
Many Christians appreciate the history of the Jews who share the same religion as Jesus and are grateful for the Jewish preservation of the Old Testament of the Bible, written in Hebrew.
"Many Gentiles feel they owe a debt of love to the Jewish people by reason of the Jewish Messiah," says Mr. Brown, who is Jewish. "They are very excited about the celebration of such things as Purim. … Purim, like everything else God has ordained, is meant to point to a personal relationship with Him."

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