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Purim is a joyous festival. It celebrates the story of how the Jews of Persia were saved by Queen Esther from destruction at the hands of the evil Haman. This story is found in the Book of Esther.
The name Purim comes from the Persian word ‘pur’ meaning ‘lot’ (as in ‘lottery’). It reminds us that Haman cast lots to determine the day on which he would kill all the Jews.
We celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar.
How do we celebrate Purim?
Reading the Megillah
At synagogue, we listen to the story of Purim read from the Megillah (Megillat Esther). It is a mitzvah (commandment) to hear the complete story read.
Children use noisemakers known as ‘raashanim’ (in Hebrew) or ‘greggers’ (in Yiddish) which they use to make noise to drown out the name of Haman whenever it is read. This noise and tumult adds to the joy and fun of the festival.
Eating a festive meal
It is customary to have a festive meal on the day of Purim (though not on the previous night). It is a mitzvah for adults to drink wine and be merry on Purim.
Sending gifts to friends and to the poor
It is a custom of Purim to send gifts to one’s friends, often in festive baskets. Even school children traditionally exchange mishloach manot with their friends and prepare gifts to give or send to those less fortunate. Gifts for the poor are called mantanot l'evionim.
Wearing fancy dress costumes
Since a key theme of Purim is hiding and disguise (since Esther hid her Jewishness from the King), dressing up in costume is a favourite Purim custom. In the Diaspora (everywhere outside of Israel), it is mainly children who dress up, but in Israel and in religious communities everyone does it. In Israel on Purim the streets are filled with characters from biblical personalities to TV superheroes and this helps to create the festive mood.
Eating Purim foods
A number of foods are customarily eaten on Purim, many of them echoing the theme of hiding. There are hamantashen pastries containing various fillings, as well as foods to remind us of the special diet which Esther followed in the palace to avoid eating non-kosher foods.
As Purim is a joyous festival we celebrate by singing songs. 'Leytzan Katan' is a song about a little clown who dresses up and dances.
Leytzan katan nechmad Roked im kol echad Leytzan katan sheli ulai tirkod iti Ulai ulai Ulai tirkod iti
Nice little clown Dances with everyone My little clown Perhaps you will dance with me Perhaps perhaps Perhaps you will dance with me