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Somers' Rabbi Schwalb Interprets Purim

SOMERS, N.Y. – The Hebrew celebration of Purim begins on Wednesday at sundown and ends at sundown on Thursday.

“It’s a crazy holiday,” said Rabbi Fred Schwalb of the Hebrew Congregation of Somers. “It’s based on the Book of Esther from the Old Testament. The emperor of Persia wanted a new wife, so he chose the most beautiful girl, Esther,” not knowing that Esther was Jewish.

Meanwhile, the prime minister, Haman, had a fight with Mordechai and decided to kill all the Jews. But Mordechai was Esther’s uncle, so he told his niece, ‘You’ve got to reveal yourself to the king to save the Jews,” according to Schwalb.

“The king told Esther she could have anything she wanted, but in Persian law a king can’t cancel a decree once it’s issued,” Schwalb said. So he advised her to warn the Jews “so they can defend themselves. The Jews defeated Haman and hung him.”

Schwalb said that Purim is a time for celebration because the Jews were saved. The message, he added, is “Don’t just sit there and wait until God saves you. Use your own initiative.”

Over the centuries, various customs have entered into the celebration. As the Book of Esther is read to the congregation, according to Schwalb, the kids have noisemakers and every time the name of Haman is mentioned, they drown it out.

It has also become traditional to dress in a carnival costume for the celebration. Since the Book of Esther is one of those recorded on a scroll, known as a megillah , Schwalb himself dresses as Megilla Gorilla. At the Somers congregation, in lieu of reading the Esther story aloud, it is acted out in playlets with music.

“The weird thing is that this is the holiday when you’re supposed to drink,” Schwalb said. “So we do.”

One of the traditional foods associated with Purim is the small triangular pastry, usually filled with prune, apricot or poppy seed jam, know as hamentaschen, or “haman’s pockets.”

“Purim is the basis of the joke about the definition of all Jewish holidays. ‘They wanted to kill us. We won. Let’s eat!’” Schwalb said.

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