The Jewish holiday of Purim is a holiday unlike most others. Although it commemorates the triumph of the Jews of ancient Persia over a secret genocidal plan by an unscrupulous courtier, Purim is a day of frivolity. Even the temple service, with the reading of the Biblical Book of Esther (the Megillah) is a noisy affair, with the congregation encouraged to boo and hiss every mention of the villain Haman.At Santa Monica Synagogue’s (Temple Sha’arai Am) Purim Carnival on March 8, things were wackier-looking than usual. The kids who sang along with Cantor Steve Hummel’s guitar-accompanied Purim songs were dressed in typical Purim costumes, paper crowns and improvised ancient robes. But Hummel was dressed as Batman, while Rabbi Jeff Marx was Superman.“Our theme this year is ‘Superheroes,’” Hummel told the Mirror. “Actually, it’s ‘SuPurim.’” He was indulging in his own yearning be Batman. Most of the kids were dressed as their conception of the characters in the Megillah: Queen Esther, her husband King Ahasuerus, and Esther’s cousin and guardian Mordecai, who gives her the information about Haman’s evil plan. Nobody seemed to be impersonating Haman, a supercilious and vain character who brings about his own downfall through his foolish conceit. Haman is mainly remembered via a triangular pastry known as Hamantashen. These were on sale along with kosher hot dogs, kosher pizza, snow cones, and donuts at the Carnival outside in the synagogue’s parking lot.As with most carnivals, there were vendors, in this case selling rugs, hand-knitted yarmulkes (skull caps), and used books; game booths with wheels of fortune, mini-basketball, and miniature car races; an arts and crafts area where kids made clay figures and painted paper plates with their own designs; and a DJ playing classic oldies.To anyone not familiar with the Purim tradition, this might not seem to have anything to do with religion. But as Rabbi Marx explained, Purim is the Jewish holiday that proves the rule by being the exception.“Purim for centuries has been a day of deliberate transgression,” said Marx. “But we also know that license is actually a way of affirming boundaries and affirming the rules. It reminds us that the rest of the year, we don’t do these things that we can do at Purim.”Costumes, said Marx, are not a new tradition. People wore Purim costumes in Eastern Europe and it was not unusual for someone in a local congregation to dress up as the rabbi. Likewise, popular songs were often rewritten as Purim songs.The service is always full of laughter aimed at the evil and foolishness of Haman. Adults often transgress by drinking a lot (which is not encouraged at other times of year), but for the kids, it’s mostly candy, cookies, games, contests, and socializing.“It’s a good way to bring people together,” said Lizzy Pratt, vice president of Sha’Arai Am’s youth group. Surrounded by her teenaged companions in the group, she explained that the group members have all known each other since childhood, and that the group helps them continue to be a “family.”And soon, the family members were participating in a hula hoop contest, with tiny Esthers and Mordecais swiveling their hips to ’50s rock.Happy Purim.
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