You’ve heard of Purim, right? It’s a day we dress up, feast, and listen to stories. Sound familiar?
For some, Purim may just be another day to dress up, eat and socialize. But Purim isn’t just about the triangle-shaped cookies (hamantashen), the parties, or the noise-making (I apologize to my parents for the many headaches I must have caused around Purim with noise-makers).
Purim is a commemorative holiday which celebrates the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia which took place more than two millennia ago on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar. (Shoutout to the one and only, Queen Esther!)
This year, we celebrate Purim on Wednesday night, March 20th until Thursday, March 21st with gifts of food, charity, feasting, Megillah readings and lots of joy. (The Megillah is the scroll containing the story of Purim from the Book of Esther.)
Here’s the lowdown on Purim so you can partake in all the festivities! (No FOMO allowed!)
How to Celebrate Purim
I think most of us can all agree that things in life are generally better when we put a little prep-work in. Purim has itself a little “preparation” before we can get to all the good stuff.
Shabbat Zachor—The Shabbat of Remembrance
Shabbat is a day of rest on the 7th day of the week of the Jewish calendar. It begins with candle-lighting a few minutes before sunset and ends when three stars light the sky on Saturday evening. On Shabbat, many Jews around the world refrain from work-related activities and spend time with their family and friends.
On the Shabbat before Purim, which occurs on March 16th this year, we read a special Torah portion in the synagogue called Zachor (“Remember”). This portion reminds us of the deeds of the Amalekites and their baseless hatred which inspired their plot to destroy the Jewish people. In this Torah portion, we are instructed to eradicate the evil of Amalek from the earth.
Ta’anit Esther—The Fast of Esther
On the 13th of Adar (Wednesday, March 20th, 2019), we fast from dawn until nightfall to commemorate the fasting of Queen Esther and the Jewish people, which happens a few times in the Purim story as they pray to G-d to save them.
I know what you must be thinking. We are celebrating that we survived, why do we need to fast? Don’t worry! It is only a minor and short fast (pregnant ladies, nursing moms, and sickly people are exempt).
Some tips that may help you:
- Stay hydrated the week of the fast and drink lots of water before the fast begins.
- Wake up early in the morning before the fast begins and chug water /eat something small and filling (I do half an hour before).
Machatzit HaShekel–The “Half” Coins
On the afternoon of the “Fast of Esther” or before reading the Megillah, we traditionally give to charity with three coins in half denominations (three half-dollar coins work) to commemorate the half-shekel given by each Jew as as part of the communal offerings in the Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash).
The Jewcy Stuff
Ha’Arba Mitzvot– The Four Good Deeds
Lehazin le Megillah – Listen to the Megillah
All you need to do is to head over to your local synagogue to hear the whole Purim story from a handwritten scroll of the Book of Esther. You need to hear it twice: once during Purim night (March 20th), and then again on Purim day (March 21st). The custom is to make noise using noise-makers such as graggers or stomp on the floor whenever Haman’s (the Purim story villain) name is mentioned.
Pay attention to the words because this is a situation where every word counts! If you miss even one word, you’ll need to listen to the whole Megillah all over again. (Also, be aware that if you’re talking in
Matanot LaEvyonim- Give to the needy
Since Haman tried to kill all of us Jews together, one of the central themes of Purim is Jewish unity. In the spirit of unity, we make special efforts to care for the needy.
All you need to do is give money or food to two needy people on Wednesday, the 21st, during the daytime. If you can’t find people, often synagogues will collect money for this purpose or you can put two coins in a Tzedakah box (charity box).
On Purim we give to
Mishloach Manot- Send gifts of Food to Friends
To celebrate friendship and community, we send packages of two or more ready-to-eat food items to our friends during the daylight hours of Purim (March 21st). It is preferable to hand-deliver the food gifts to your friends through a third-party because then you’re helping them partake in a good deed. And don’t forget to leave a note! It doesn’t count if they don’t know that the gift came from you.
In Persia, the traditional custom was to send ajil (mixed nuts in Persian) and halva or other Persian shirini (sweets).
According to Poopa Dweck–an expert on Syrian Jewish
Seudat Purim- Have a Purim Feast
During the daytime on the 21st, celebrate Purim with a festive meal. It is tradition to begin the meal before sundown and continue late into the evening. Decorations, wine, meat and bread are are staples of the Purim feast. Feel free to invite people over to celebrate, or join a big Purim Feast. And most importantly, have fun!
So where do the costumes come in to play? Good question. The miracle of Purim was disguised as if it happened through natural events. So the costumes are traditionally made to allude to how G-d helped us during the Purim story but through a “hidden” way.
Purim Katan–Mini Purim
On years such as this one when it is a Jewish leap year, we have two months of Adar. In this case, we celebrate Purim in the second Adar and during the first Adar we have a tiny Purim or Purim Katan. There’s no real set way to celebrate this; however, most people try to add a little extra joy to this day. So try doing something that gives you joy on this day like cooking your favorite dish or watching your favorite movie with some friends.
Overall, now you’re armed and ready to take on this Purim season with your new knowledge. Happy Purim, Everyone!
A special thanks to Rabbi Turkoff and Rabbi Goldfarb from my seminary days at Machon Alte, Tzfat, Israel. Without notes from their classes, this guide wouldn’t be possible.