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Purim - A Parent's Perspective

In some ways, Purim is like a "Jewish Halloween," or a "Jewish Mardis Gras." People ¬both children and adults - dress in costume and eat certain sweet foods, like the three-pointed pastry known as hamantashen (HUM-in-tash-in). Some people have wild parties. In other ways, though, Purim is unique.
Purim is based on the biblical book of Esther, which tells a story involving the Jews in ancient Persia. According to the story, the Persian king, Ahashuerus (a-ha-shoo-WER-us), banishes Vashti, his queen. To replace her, he holds a beauty contest. The winner of the contest is a young Jewish woman named Esther. She becomes queen, but does not tell anyone that she is Jewish.
In the meantime, the king has a powerful advisor named Haman (Hay-min). Haman wants all of the people in the kingdom to bow down to him whenever they see him. But Esther's cousin, Mordechai, refuses to do this, and this makes Haman very angry. In fact. Haman gets so angry that he decides to murder all the Jews in Persia.
When Mordechai hears about this, he persuades Queen Esther to tell the king that she is Jewish, so that the king will put a stop to Haman's plan. Esther agrees and goes to the king, and tells him that she is Jewish. The king becomes so angry with Haman that he orders him to be hanged on the same gallows that Haman was planning to use for hanging the Jews. In this way. the Jews of Persia are saved.
Even though Purim deals with important and complex themes, it is also a time to create joyous memories for a child and his/her sense of Jewish identity. What child does not dream of being the beautiful Queen Esther or the hero of the story, Mordechai? Purim carnival provides children with wonderful opportunities to see friends and spend fun time with family members. Many adults enjoy spending time working booths at the Purim carnival and find it an easy way to become active in the temple.

What to Teach Our Children

The Purim story contains issues which will be difficult for children to understand. Haman's hatred of the Jews, and the Jews' revenge by murder. are both issues which are highly problematic. What, then, can we focus on as we try to answer our children's questions?
First. we can simply introduce them to the characters. keeping the explanations simple. For example: Ahashuerus was the King of Persia; Haman worked for King Ahashuerus in the castle. Second, we can focus on the differences between Purim and Halloween-for example, on both holidays, people dress up in costume, but on Halloween we go and collect candy from our neighbors. whereas on Purim there is a custom of mishloach manot, of sending gifts to our friends and loved ones. Third. we can explain the custom of eating hamantaschen, and we can mention that the pastries are shaped like Haman's hat.
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