How Esther Got Her Jews Back, and Other Purim Tales
February 25, 2010 in Jewish Tales Brought Alive
On my most memorable Purim, I was nineteen years old, living in and attending a Jerusalem-based seminary, and dressed up as a devil. Not a sexy devil, mind you–this was Purim, not that slutty pagan holiday you gentiles call Halloween–but one dressed in a red knee-length skirt and matching three-quarter-sleeved shirt, a pair of the four-inch platform hooker boots that were the only acceptable footwear at my high school, and the whole token horns/tail/pitchfork set.
I was half of a pair; my friend Liz was an angel, which although factually less accurate was a good fashion move since she’s half-Puerto Rican and has beautiful dark skin and I vaguely resemble the inner contents of a milk carton. We spent the morning with the rest of the girls listening to a valiant few lain (which is basically reading in a tune) Megillat Esther (i.e. the book of the Bible we read on Purim) aloud and then headed off to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City (aka “the Rovah”), where we discovered that a girl named Tovah (Tovah from the Rovah!!) was having a party. We promptly invited ourselves and got plastered among other be-costumed Jerusalem-dwelling strangers in Tovah’s apartment, a ridiculously well-located domicile with an unparalleled view of the center of the city, a view which was made infinitely more astonishing by the appearance of a rainbow.
Imbued with the magic of pretty colors and vodka, we then set off for the Burger King on the hugely touristy promenade of Ben Yehuda Street, where we ran into a guy I knew from camp. For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to rant to him about some guy I’d hooked up with the year before who was pissing me off. I still have no idea how or why this happened.
Then I ate a hamburger. The rest is sort of a blur.
I know what you’re thinking–what a shameless lush weirdo Dahl is, parading around in odd outfits and yelling at people–but no! Actually, most of my behavior (not the screaming part–sorry, Solly) was quite in the spirit of the holiday!
And that’s because Purim is the most awesome holiday ever.
Like all the other wacky we stuff we do, the Purim traditions are steeped in the Bible–in this case, that little book at the back I referred to earlier called The Book of Esther. The gist of the story in said book is this: A billion years ago in the exotic land of Persia, there lived a king named Akhashverosh (usually transliterated as Ahasuerus but I’m not sure why) and his wife, this chick named Vashti. One day, Akhashverosh got plastered during one of his parties and demanded that Vashti be paraded in front of everyone but she refused. (There are a couple of legends here–that he wanted her to come out naked, that she had a tail, etc.) As a result, she got banished and Akhashverosh began the search for a new queen vis a vis a beauty contest between all the hotties of the kingdom.
Now, in the kingdom there was a Jewish guy named Mordechai whose orphaned cousin Hadassah was a total babe. Hadassah, who then became Esther, which I guess is more Persian (like Ishtar) and also means something about hiding yourself in Hebrew, has no choice but to offer herself up. Now, I know what you’re thinking–no chick named Esther can be hot. I mean, maybe she was hot 80 years ago, but now she just sits in Miami and plays Mah-Jongg. But you’re wrong! First of all, the hottest girl in my grade in high school was Persian, so, picture that. Second of all, Esther is my namesake; if ever you’ve wondered what the E in DahlELama stands for, well, now you know.
But I digress.
Esther entered the contest, and due to her total babe-ocity, she kicked ass and became queen, all the while hiding her horns underneath that lustrous Persian hair of hers.
And now, flash to a random scene where Mordechai overhears two guys plotting to kill Akhashverosh and tells him. Akhashverosh is very grateful and writes it in his diary like the good teenage girl he is. And now, flash back!
Now, while this stuff is going down, Akhashverosh gets himself a new vizier, who’s a total prick. Picture Jafar with a three-cornered hat. (Yes, for some reason we decided that his hat has three corners. Both our traditional Purim cookie, Hamantaschen, and one of the traditional Purim songs are based on this fact.) Anyway, Jafar, whose name was actually Haman, instituted a law that everyone had to bow down to him, but we Jews are stubborn and Mordechai, who’s basically chilling in the courtyard of the palace 24/7 to babysit his cuz, refused.
This pissed Haman off immensely and he decided to kill all the Jews, because that’s obviously the natural reaction.
So, he cast a lottery (i.e. a Pur in Hebrew, hence “Purim,” which is the plural) and the 13th of the month of Adar came up the winner of Holocaust Day Bingo. He tells the whole capital city of Shushan and it results total chaos. Somehow, Esther remains totally clueless as to what’s going on until she hears that Mordechai is publicly mourning in the courtyard, but she goes out to ask what’s up and he tells her that they’re all gonna die and she needs to save all their asses.
He tells her she has to go to the king, but she’s all “uh, he’ll kill me.” Whatevs. Anyway, she finally decides yeah, what the hell, my life blows anyway. She fasts for three days and gets all the other Jews to do it too and then goes to the king. Turns out, he’s totally jazzed to see her even though he hasn’t summoned her to his bedside in like a month and tells her she can have whatever she wants. Perfect opening for her to be like “stop this decree and cut off Haman’s nuts,” right? WRONG. Instead, she invites him and Haman to a private party.
ZOMG totally unexpected.
Anyway, Esther clearly throws a rockin’ shindig because Akhashverosh tells her she can have whatever she wants. Again, perfect opening, right? Which, of course, just means Esther invites them to another party.
So Haman is feeling like more awesome than Regina George before she got hit by that bus, and when he feels awesome, it means Mordechai really needs to die, so he erects a 50-foot gallows on which to hang him because, sure, why not. That night, Akhashverosh gets insomnia, and I guess warm milk and porn weren’t invented yet because instead he asks for his diary. While reading it, he realizes that Mordechai saved his life and he never did crap for him. Then, he basically freaks out because he hears someone in the courtyard, but it turns out it’s just Haman and instead asks him how he can honor someone awesome. Haman, thinking he’s going to be the subject of the king’s honor, suggests that the honoree get all bedazzled in royal clothing and paraded around on a horse.
I will not address how incredibly lame it is that Robin Williams basically popped out of a lamp and offered Jafar anything he wanted and this is what he chose, but really, come on. Anyway, the king likes this idea, probably because it’s cheaper than the all-expenses paid trip to Disneyworld Haman should’ve asked for, and says “Sweet, go do this crap for Mordechai, Sucka!”
Anyway, the second party happens, and Esther finally tells Akhashverosh that there’s a guy in his kingdom who’s looking to destroy her people. The king, who possessed the insight and leadership qualities of a Middle-Eastern Dubya, asked WTF she was talking about, at which point she pulled a whole dramatic “what has two index fingers and is trying to kill the Jews? That guy!” move and Akhashverosh got so pissed off he…went for a walk.
Haman and Esther are alone so in all his manly manliness, Haman decides to beg like a seven-year-old girl who’s just discovered a Dora backpack at Wal-Mart, literally throwing himself on her, uh, mercy. The king returns, thinks Haman was trying to bang his wife (which, maybe he was? Who knows), and orders him killed. Enter the eunuch Charvona, whose only role in this book is to conveniently inform Akhashverosh that hey! There’s actually already a perfectly good gallows out there!
That’s right; karma’s a bitch. Haman and his ten sons totally got hanged on Mordechai’s gallows. Game over.
Only not! Because the decree still existed and apparently signet ring ink is not erasable. So instead of taking it back, it’s decreed that the Jews are now allowed to gather up and defend themselves, so they basically spent two days kicking all sorts of ass and now we’re still alive. As a result, we do a bunch of things to celebrate, including:
1. Get plastered. The official custom is to get drunk “Ad D’Lo Yadah” which literally means “until you don’t know,” and refers to getting so wasted that you can’t tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai. Why you wouldn’t want to be able to distinguish the difference between the two is a little beyond me, but whatever.
2. Give people packages of food. These are called “Mishlo’ach Manot” and they’re freakin awesome. Traditionally, these are generally full of some combo of candy, the traditional Purim cookie called “Hamantaschen”, and maybe wine, although people really love doing themes. “Breakfast” is one that’s wildly popular with people who think they’re wildly original, which gets me a lot of single-serving coffee bags I don’t really want.
3. Give money to poor people, aka “Matanot L’Evyonim.”
4. Get dressed up in costume. When the Jews are fighting back, kicking ass, and taking names on the very day they were supposed to be exterminated, it says “V’Nahafokh Hu,” which basically means “Switcheroo!” And so, topsy-turveyness ensues and I proceed to wear the same Queen Esther costume for many, many years.
5. Have a big meal, aka “Purim Se’udah.”
How am I celebrating, you ask, because I am so wonderfully interesting? Well, I’ll tell you! First of all, I found an old floppy hat I had with a flower on the brim which gave me the inspiration to dress up like Blossom. Then I realized I have nothing else for this costume. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that if I just wear the hat, people will still know who I’m supposed to be, so I think I’m going to take advantage of my peers’ 90s nostalgia and rock the flower like nobody’s biz.
Secondly, I’ll be making totally uncute mishlo’ach manot because really, who has time for this crap? My husband made hamantaschen though, which are delicious, and those will be making an appearance in the little plastic boxes we bought to give out to our friends. There will probably also be chocolate, because it’s easy and I like eating the leftovers. I will also be doing the less fun things of listening to the Megillah being lained at synagogue, both on Saturday night and on Sunday morning because that’s just how it works; giving money to poor people (which is nice but admittedly not fun, per se); and also fasting on Thursday, because that’s a thing too. (Fun facts: Ta’anit Esther, which is the name of this particular fast, is the only one of the six annual fasts that is in commemoration of a happy occasion. I suspect that this is why many people ignore it. Traditionally, it falls out the day before Purim, but because fasting is forbidden on the Sabbath, when Purim falls out on a Sunday as it does this year, the fast is the Thursday before.)
And finally, I will be throwing a Purim Se’udah at my apartment for 15 people. For those foodies who’d like to know what’s on the menu and why, I share the following:
- Homemade challah, because my husband’s been on a challah-making binge and because every holiday meal is supposed to begin with challah
- Chicken wontons and sweet potato kreplach (which are also basically wontons) with apricot dipping sauce, because Purim has this whole thing with “hidden miracles” and so this is stuff wrapped in stuff
- Minute roast, because it’s been in my freezer forever and I need to get rid of it
- Jambalaya, because Purim is always somewhere around Mardi Gras
- Garlic-ginger-glazed chicken wings, because I didn’t feel like cleaning bigger chicken pieces and there are always those annoying people who don’t eat red meat
- Sweet potatoes with vanilla rum sauce, because it’s got liquor
- Drunken noodles with tofu, because it’s got liquor and I’ve got two vegetarians coming
- Some weird quinoa stew with squash, because that’s what my friend offered to make and I really didn’t want to cook any more for vegetarians
- Persian rice, because that’s what another friend offered to make and this whole thing took place in Persia
- Napa cabbage salad, because it’s easy and girls like salad
- Veggie slaw, because…I’m actually still not sure. I just thought we needed another vegetable thing and this sounded cheap and easy.
- Hamantaschen, because, well, if you don’t know why, you should probably have read the post
- Ad D’Lo Yadah cake–seriously, that’s what it’s called in the kosher cookbook. It’s chock full of Amaretto and vodka, then iced with some more.
- Copious amounts of beer, wine, and liquor, because if you leave the meal sober, you’ve done something wrong.
And that’s that. Happy Purim, everybody!