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Greenwich Rabbi Derives Modern Lessons From Ancient Holiday of Purim

Rabbi Hurvitz
Rabbi Hurvitz Photo Credit: Contributed

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — In ancient times, Haman, an evil adviser to the king of Persia, sought to annihilate the Jewish people in the country, which is modern-day Iran.

But the king’s wife, who had kept her Jewish identity a secret, revealed her religion and the plan to him. Hama's plan was turned upside down: He was hanged, and the Jewish people in Persia were saved.

In modern times, the holiday — now known as Purim and which begins Wednesday — takes on additional meaning, according to Rabbi Mitchell Hurvitz of Temple Sholom in Greenwich.

“The holiday — while commemorating specifically the survival of the Jewish people within Persia — I think is a stronger metaphor of Jewish perseverance, survival, and the ability to thrive throughout history overcoming our enemies,” Hurvitz said.

To commemorate the holiday, congregations read the Book of Esther, which tells the story of the holiday, from start to end. But the holiday also includes joyous celebrations.

Jews typically dress up in costume to commemorate the upside-down theme. And whenever the name of the evil adviser is said, some Jews wind up noisemakers called groggers to drown out the sound of his name.

The Jewish people also celebrate by eating hamentashen, which are jelly-filled cookies made into the shape of Haman’s hat. They also make up Purim gift baskets, which they give to friends, neighbors and those in need.

Hurvitz said Purim was one of his favorite Jewish holidays as a child along with Simchat Torah, when congregants sing and dance to mark the end of a Torah reading cycle and the beginning of a new one.

Despite the holiday’s ancient roots, Hurvitz said the holiday’s message has modern day implications. Haman made his intentions known, and the Jewish people believed him.

“I think there’s a very powerful message that when evil people say things believe them and figure out how to act effectively moving forward,” Hurvitz said.

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