Tag Archive | jewish

Purim Celebrations for Gentiles

Originally posted February 28th, 2012

 

Hamantaschen are delicious cookies traditionally eaten at Purim.

The Jewish Holiday of Purim is a festive, often raucous holiday filled with gaiety, great food, and parties. Yet for the gentile, this holiday is often a bit of a conundrum, even though many gentiles know the essential story behind Purim from the Biblical book of Esther.

Purim is a spring holiday, typically celebrated in March, celebrating Jewish survival in the face of genocide. The word Purim means “lots” and is a reference to the lots drawn by Persian courtier Haman to decide the date of Jewish annihilation. The story itself is told in full in the Biblical book of Esther, the name of a very brave Jewish young woman who, according to the story, was chosen as the new queen of King Ahasuerus (assumed to be Xerxes I of Persia) after his previous queen refused to come to a banquet thrown by Xerxes for several nobles. Queen Vashti’s refusal was probably understandable; the summons came while Xerxes was drunk. Regardless the historical details, if any, Esther’s ascent puts her in a rare position, able to influence the king in a time of crisis. After Haman tricks Xerxes into genocidal slaughter of all the Jews in his realm, Esther skillfully uses Xerxes interest in her to amend the new law-allowing Jews to defend themselves. It is her courage and intelligence (and the ultimate victory by the Jews made in self defense) that is celebrated at Purim-one woman who stopped genocide.

Orthodox Jews celebrate Purim with readings of the entire book of Esther in temple. During the readings, it is customary to shout or make noise whenever the name of Haman is read. Children dress up in costumes (making some describe it as a sort of Jewish Halloween). Adults drink-the much debated standard is “until they can no longer distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordecai,'” (http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Purim/At_Home/Meal/Drinking_on_Purim.shtml).

These are the parts of Purim that are more or less the real domain of Judaism. Yet it is the other half of Purim that I believe gentiles can robustly embrace and which I keep every spring as a gentile:

  • Charitable giving: giving to those who have less than you do. This part of Purim reminds us that no matter how hard life is or how much we may lack, there is ALWAYS someone who has even greater life challenges-economically and otherwise. Purim reminds us to “count our blessings.”
  • Giving food gifts: certain Jewish foods like hamentaschen cookies are traditional, but any food gift will work. This is related in part with charitable giving; there is always someone we know struggling to have enough to eat.
  • Feasting/enjoying a special Purim meal: this is a merry holiday–of course we celebrate with food.

Purim is more than simply a celebration honoring the courage of a Jewish heroine. The holiday has evolved into a time for charity, food, and humble thankfulness for the blessings each of us receive and too often take for granted. No matter your religious or cultural heritage, each of us can celebrate this very Jewish holiday and its spirit of helping others.

For more about Purim, please see http://www.meirpanim.org/page_e.php?name=Purim andhttp://purim.123holiday.net/purim_customes.html and http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Purim/At_Home/Foods.shtml.

 

 

A nice recipe for hamantaschen is at http://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/1366/jewish/Traditional-Hamantashen.htm

Breaking the Religious Code of Silence in Rape, Incest, and Domestic Violence

May 16, 2012

May 10, a New York Times article reports, “Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse.” The story details the dire consequences many Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn continue to face for daring to report child molestation and abuse to secular authorities. As we have all heard reports about for the last few years with the recent controversy over Roman Catholic clerical sexual abuse, the incidents, and the religious community response to anyone daring to break the code of silence that keeps victims hidden and perpetrators un-noticed, transcends religions. Blaming the victims and protecting the abusers is not just a Roman Catholic problem, or an Orthodox Jewish one for that matter.

I know all about this from my personal life. I too grew up in a very conservative religious community. In my case, it was Evangelical, “Born-Again” Christian. I grew up hearing sermons from Jack Van Impe, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and countless others whose names I’ve forgotten across the years, all of whom would probably be considered Tea Party today for their ultra-conservatism. When I was in junior high I remember an older, teen peer being shunned in a formal church service, ex-communicated and banned from our church for pre-marital sex. With so much hidden (or not so hidden) pain of my own to go through, I did not process at the time (or perhaps could not in that religious environment) exactly what I had witnessed in seeing that shunning.

It is time our organized religions stop this conspiracy of blame and conspiracy of silence. No one makes a man or woman beat another. No one makes someone rape anyone. Responsibility for these terrible things lies on the person who does them. Surviving doesn’t make you dirty or sinful or evil or corrupt or anti your religion. When you suffer this, you are NOT to blame, no matter what someone says. Churches, synagogues, temples, religious communities of every theology and structure all need to stop this behavior. No matter how many weapons a perpetrator has or how powerful s/he is physically, not one abuser can continue without the silent consent of the group. When the group stands against these horrible things, the violence STOPS.

Violence is not the victim’s problem; it is everyone’s problem. We are all diminished every time a person is verbally demeaned, every time someone is forced into a non-consensual sexual act, every time someone is physically assaulted. Responsibility lies with all of us. If we do nothing to help the person in jeopardy, if we ignore the screams, if we turn away instead of intervening, then we have only empowered those doing these things.