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Listening to the Story of Purim

We often think of Purim with its costumes and noisemakers as a children's holiday. But its themes and ideas are of great importance to Jewish life. In fact, our tradition tells us that we are to drop whatever we are doing, no matter its importance, to go and listen to the story of Purim.

According to the Talmud, "The study of Torah is interrupted for the reading of the M'gillah ." And Maimonides (a 12th century sage and rabbi) teaches, "The reading of the M'gillah certainly supersedes all other mitzvot ." (Maimonides,Yad, M'gillah 1:1)

What, then, does the Purim story teach us that is of such magnitude?* Rabbi Mark Washofsky comments,

The biblical scroll of Esther recounts the courageous acts of Esther and Mordecai through which the Jews triumphed over enemies bent upon their destruction, maintaining their self-respect and religious integrity, and refusing to bow before any authority but God.This theme of religious survival as a tiny minority in the midst of a sea of often-hostile nations is a central element in the story of the Jewish people. It is our story, an indelible feature of our consciousness as a community and as individuals.Therefore, when the time comes on Purim to read that story, there is no more important duty to fulfill. The large crowd and the carnival atmosphere of this day are expressions of our joy at the fact of our survival and our belief that the struggle against bigotry and persecutions can be won again as in ancient times. ( Jewish Living: A Guide To Contemporary Reform Practice , URJ Press, p.125-6)

The Story of Purim

This story takes place in the land of Persia (today's Iran) at the time when Ahashverosh (aka Ahasuerus) was king. King Ahashverosh held a banquet in his capital city of Shushan and ordered his queen,Vashti, to come and dance before his guests. She refused to appear and lost her royal position.

Based on advice from his counselors,Ahashverosh held a contest to choose a new queen. Mordechai, a Jewish man living in Shushan, encouraged his niece, Esther, to enter the competition. Esther won but, following the advice of her uncle, did not reveal her Jewish origin.

Mordechai often sat near the gate of the king's palace. One day he overheard two men, Bigthan and Teresh, plotting to kill the king. Mordechai reported what he had heard to Esther. She then reported the information to the king.The matter was investigated and found to be true. Bigthan and Teresh came to an unfortunate end. Mordechai's deed was recorded, but his actual reward came later.

Haman, one of the king's advisers, despised the Jews. He plotted to kill them and cast purim ("lots," plural of pur ), a kind of lottery, to determine the day on which he would carry out his evil deed. Haman also convinced King Ahashverosh to go along with his plan, although in the M'gillah, Haman never identified the Jews as the people he wished to destroy.

Guided by Mordechai, Esther foiled Haman's plot, and the Jews were saved.The fate that Haman had planned for the Jews became his own.The holiday of Purim celebrates the bravery of Esther and Mordechai and the deliverance of the Jewish people from the cruelty of oppression.

Find resources for celebrating Purim on the URJ's holiday website:

Children's Books for Purim

Here Come the Purim Players!
Barbara Cohen, Illustrated by Shoshana Mekibel
Back in print with new, full-color illustrations, a classic from a premiere author of Jewish children's books!

"They're coming!  They're coming!  The Purim players are coming!" So begins a Purim tale of yesteryear by Barbara Cohen, renowned author of Jewish children's books. Enter the world of Reb Zalman and Reb Yisroel and their fellow Jews in Prague; listen to how the Jews of Persia escaped destruction because of Esther's bravery and Mordecai's wisdom. With beautiful, full-color illustrations by Shoshana Mekibel, Here Come the Purim Players! is a lively retelling of the story of Purim that is sure to have the whole family laughing with joy.

The Purim Costume
Penninah Schram, Illustrated by Tammy L. Keiser

In this warmly told contemporary tale of Purim by renowned storyteller Penninah Scram, and accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Tammy L. Keiser, the complete story of Purim is framed by the experience of a modern-day child. Rebecca is tired of always dressing up as Queen Esther. Her mother suggests many options, but non appeal to Rebecca. Finally, her mother suggests Vashti.

As Rebecca considers this unusual option and listens to the story of Purim at the spiel, she comes to realize just how important Vashti was.

Recipies for Purim



  • 1 ½ c. sugar
  • ½ c. shortening
  • ½ c. margarine or butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ¾ c. flour
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • colored sugar in several colors

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cream together sugar, margarine, eggs. Mix in flour, cream of tartar, and baking soda. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Roll in colored sugar. Bake 8-10 minutes on an ungreased cookie sheets. Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.

*Or, use sugar cookie mix available in the baking aisle at grocery stores, follow baking directions on the package Note: the packaged mix makes a very soft dough while the from-scratch mix is a bit sturdier.


Kids love fresh-squeezed juice. Buy a large bag of juicing oranges and some grapefruits. A juicer or an electric squeezer makes this process much simpler. It also is easier to juice fruits that are at room temperature. Gently press and roll the oranges and grapefruits to soften the interior of the fruit. Then wash and cut the fruit in half, and squeeze the fruit.

Depending on the juice content of the fruit, you will need three to four oranges or two oranges and one grapefruit for each glassful. Decorate with a maraschino cherry or a strawberry. Pouring in some lemon-lime soda will add a sparkle and fizz to the juice.


The dough for this recipe comes from "Chocolate Chip Challah and Other Twists on the Jewish Holiday Table", by Lisa Rauchwerger, published by the URJ Press.

  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons milk, water, soy milk or rice milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Making the dough:

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter (or margarine) and the sugar with beaters. Add eggs and beat a little more.

In a smaller bowl, mix flour and baking powder. Add a little of this mixture to the creamed butter, sugar and egg. Add the milk (regular, rice, soy or water) to the creamed mixture. Add the remaining flour mixture. Add the vanilla.

Mix well. Knead the dough into a ball. (The dough works best if you wrap it in plastic and chill it in the refrigerator for at least an hour. You can make the dough early in the day and bake the cookies in the afternoon, or prepare the dough the night before and chill it overnight.)

Forming the Hamantashen:

Preheat oven to 375° F. Roll out the dough on a floured board until it is 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick. Cut dough into 3-inch to 4-inch rounds with a floured glass or cookie cutter. Drop filling by the teaspoonful in the center of each round. Mentally divide the cookie into thirds, fold over the left and right sides, and pinch the top together. Then fold up the bottom third and pinch in place. A triangle should emerge, with the filling showing in the middle. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool cookies on a wire rack.   See the YouTube video below on how to shape hamantashen.

Kid-Pleasing Fillings:

Fruit and chocolate chips are kid-pleasing fillings for hamantashen. Canned apricot, cherry, apple or berry pie fillings are available from the grocery store.


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