Festival Diary – Purim by Vivienne Woolf

This blog series invites members and friends of WIN to prepare a ‘festival diary’, exploring the history and significance of specific rituals or outlining the routine of religious celebrations, as a window into the lived experience of people of different faiths. This week, author and WIN member Vivienne Woolf has written a reflection on the Jewish festival of Purim, from memories of her childhood in South Africa through to creating memories for her own children in later life.

All Jewish holidays began and ended with my father, David.  Born in Lithuania, raised in a religious, Yiddish speaking home, and driven from his homeland by Pogroms, David brought his special brand of Yiddishkeit (Jewishness) to the way we honoured our religious heritage.

While David’s contribution to our celebration of Purim was to remind us –as does Purim, itself, that much in life is a matter of chance, and that it is just as important to roll with the punches as to accept our blessings, it was during this festival that my rather more secular mother, Rachel, came into her own. This is because Purim is largely about sharing food and dressing up as well as commemorating the salvation of the Jews by their queen, Esther from Haman, the evil vizier of her husband, the Persian King Achashverosh around 483-482BC.  Sharing food and dressing up spoke to my mother’s passions.

My mother’s Purim table groaned with food. In pride of place were kreplach, which are a kind of dumpling my mother stuffed with minced meat and served in her chicken soup and the traditional triangular pasties filled with poppy seeds, known as ‘Hamantaschen’ which means ‘Haman’s ears’ – and which word made me and my sister laugh, for some reason.

As for dressing up, we would accompany my father to synagogue, where we joined ‘mini’ Hamans, Kings Achashverosh and Esthers, disguised, ourselves, as mini Esthers in white sheets and masks worn to commemorate the fact that Esther hid her Jewish identity from her husband until it became necessary to reveal it.

Later in my life, my husband and I dutifully took my two sons to synagogue where they danced around, stamped their feet every time Haman’s name was mentioned during the traditional reading of the Megillah (the Book of Esther) and watched hitherto sober adults drink more then they should.

And while my hamantaschen were bought and not made by me, they still took pride of place in the centre of my Purim table, reminding me of my parents.

If you would like to submit your own festival diary, please contact info@wominet.org.uk

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