Purim Study Guide: 1st in Women, Relationships, Jewish Texts Series

Rabbi Goldie Milgram in Purim Mask— Ann Rose Greenberg

Washington, DC – Jewish Women International (JWI) announces the release of the first in a series of study guides related to Women, Relationships and Jewish Text. Rethinking Purim is designed to spark new conversations about relationships by offering a fresh look at old texts. The guides are a project of JWI’s Clergy Task Force on Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community, a group of prominent clergy committed to promoting Jewish responses and resources that end violence against women. Three more guides will be released in the coming year, each relating to a Jewish holiday.

More after the jump.
Rethinking Purim takes a thematic approach to the story of Purim, and uses text of the megillah, midrash, and modern commentary to encourage conversations about relationships. Each section of the guide discusses a characteristic of healthy relationships: developing a voice of one’s own; cultivating the conscious use of self; and striving for parity. The guide is designed for use in both formal and informal settings including synagogues, study groups, book clubs, or simply by a group of friends getting together.

Rabbi Richard Hirsh, co‐chair of JWI’s Clergy Task Force said:

This guide combines a respectful reading of classic texts with provocative and perceptive insights, questions and ideas that can help shape healthier relationships. It can help raise awareness of the ways in which issues of gender and power intersect with and can be addressed through such Jewish values as k’vod ha‐briot (respect for the dignity and integrity of each person) and kedusha (sanctification), among others.

According to JWI Executive Director Lori Weinstein:

We know that unhealthy relationships happen in our community, but we so rarely take the time to talk about what makes a relationship healthy. We hope that by sparking these conversations we can help women find their voices and speak out to perpetuate a cycle of safe homes, healthy relationships and strong women.

Rabbi Donna Kirshbaum, lead author of the guide said:

Jewish women today are making a new kind of ‘noise’ on this holiday by using it as a time to speak out against the mistreatment of women and against abusive relationships. We decided to go a step further and see what Purim could teach us about healthy relationships. Although the topic of healthy relationships is a serious one, we hope that — in the spirit of Purim — those using the guide will have a little fun, too.

JWI thanks Rabbi Amy Bolton, Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Cantor Katchko‐Gray, and Rabbi Donna Kirshbaum, all members of the members of the Clergy Task Force, for their thoughtful participation in the project.

The guide is available for download, free of charge.

JWI’s Clergy Task Force on Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community is a multi-denominational group representing all parts of the Jewish community and committed to providing leadership by speaking publicly, developing and disseminating resources and training, and providing guidance to clergy working with families experiencing abuse. As with all of JWI’s task forces working on domestic abuse issues, this one includes survivors of domestic violence.

Jewish Women International is the leading Jewish organization empowering women and girls through economic literacy, community training, healthy relationships education, and the proliferation of women’s leadership. Our innovative programs, advocacy, and philanthropic initiatives protect the fundamental rights of all girls and women to live in safe homes, thrive in healthy relationships, and realize the full potential of their personal strength.

Blunt Amendment on Purim Eve: Guests in a Christian Nation

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought light to many dark places in American society. It was most famous for opening businesses and institutions which operated in public to members of all races. Less well known were its provisions which prevented discrimination on the basis of sex, creed, national origin, and religion. In the matter of discrimination in the workplace, the act clearly places responsibility for establishing a work environment free of harassment on the operator of the business. Court decisions later established that employers needed to make themselves aware of harassment of minorities in the workplace, that their toleration of such harassment made them liable to penalties and prosecution under the law, that their encouragement of such harassment would lose them federal business.

More after the jump.
The far-reaching consequences of the Civil Rights Act can be seen most clearly in the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency. Unlike Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Obama’s appreciation for the role that the Civil Rights Act played in providing him with opportunities — for his education, for his advancement, for political career, for his being taken seriously as a human being — has always been open and straightforward. Obama’s recent interpretation of the Affordable Care Act — to guarantee that employees of religious institutions who were not themselves members of management’s religious faith were able to practice the tenets of the employees’ own faith, without the intimidation, coercion, and harassment of the employer’s religious restrictions on those employees — is something that Jews in particular should be grateful to their friend in the White House, who stuck up for our rights.

The Catholic Church has taken the mission of the Civil Rights Act, and stood it on its head. It is not the big bad government imposing free practice of religion on the helpless Catholic institutions — who employ followers of Judaism, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, Unitarianism, Muslims, Buddhists, Farsis, Hindus and others whose religious beliefs may differ from the Church — not just in matters of contraception, or about when life begins and ends, or about the relative importance of the lives of a woman and her fetus before childbirth. It is in fact the big bad government which has allowed such Catholic institutions to flourish and prosper, tax free, as they compete with for-profit hospitals, even as the Church provides right-to-life demonstrators at secular institutions to increase their costs of doing business. It is rather these powerful institutions who now influence the votes of our Senators Toomey and Casey — who both voted for the Blunt Amendment this past week. It is these powerful institutions, who demand exception from having to provide a harassment-free workplace for their employees, on the grounds that their employees’ free practice of religion offends management’s religious moral sensibility.

I have had to remind some friends, who were not alive at the time of the Civil Rights Movement, that some white churches in the South justified their practice of segregation on religious grounds. Such churches encouraged “Knights” to act in their defense. As government contemplated the Civil Rights Act, these churches too claimed that the government would intrude on their members’ freedom of religion. Many South African white members of the Dutch Reformed Church also justified their apartheid regime, by appealing to their interpretation of scripture, and to the teachings of their church. The coercive use of religious doctrine is not of course confined just to racial segregation and racist governments.

At this time of Purim, where we celebrate the resourcefulness of Mordechai and Esther in proclaiming their Judaism, and attempt to drown out with groggers the name of he who tried to exterminate our people for attempting to practice our basic Covenant, I would urge my compatriots to support their own civil rights, and to support the Obama position on the universal support for women’s health care services — to be exercised as the employee and not the employer sees fit, and to prevent religious harassment in the workplace from being justified, by a sense of freedom which treats the religious freedom of neighbors as if some of us were only “guests” in a Christian Nation.

Ad Lo Yada: Persian Cocktails For Purim

Two kinds of Iranian Sharbat along-with Iranian Tea — by Ronit Treatman

There is a rabbinic saying (Meg. 7b) that on Purim we should become intoxicated to the point of “ad lo yada” or not being able to differentiate between “Blessed be Mordecai” and “Cursed be Haman.”  What should we become intoxicated with?  In the spirit of Purim, it seems very appropriate to indulge in exotic Persian cocktails.

Cocktail recipes after the jump.
This mandate to drink alcohol provides us with an opportunity to be creative and mix some festive Persian Purim cocktails.  The following concoctions were inspired by the Persian Sharbat.  Sharbat is a sweet drink made with fruits, spices, or flower petals.  It is served chilled.  The Mughal rulers tasted the sharbats of the Persians, and introduced them to the Indian subcontinent.  One of these rulers loved sharbat so much, that he had ice hauled down from the Himalayas to make his favorite beverages.  Each of these drinks contains one shot of vodka (1.5 oz.), which has 40% alcohol.

Gulab Ka Sharbat: Pomegranate-Rose Water Cocktail
Adapted from Petrina Verma Sarkar

  • 1 1/2 ounces of vodka
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1/4 cup rosewater

Pour all the ingredients into a shaker over ice cubes.  Shake vigorously.  Pour through a strainer into a chilled coupette glass, leaving the ice behind.  Garnish with fresh rose petals.

Sharbat-e Ablimu: Lime Cocktail
Adapted from Sookandcook

  • 1 1/2 ounces of vodka
  • 6 1/2 ounce of water
  • 1 large ripe lime
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar (or to taste)

Boil the water, and incorporate the sugar into it to make a simple syrup.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Pour the syrup, vodka, and juice of one lime into a shaker over ice cubes.  Shake vigorously.  Pour through a strainer into a chilled coupette glass, leaving the ice behind.  Garnish with a fresh sprig of mint and a slice of lime.

Sharbat-e Zaferan: Saffron Cocktail
Adapted from ramkicooks

  • 1 1/2 ounces of vodka
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon of saffron threads
  1. Prepare a simple syrup by boiling one cup of water, and then dissolving 2 cups of sugar into it.  
  2. Add one tablespoon of saffron threads.  
  3. Squeeze in the juice of one lemon.
  4. Allow to cool to room temperature.  
  5. Pour the vodka, 6 1/2 ounces of water, and 1/3 cup of syrup into a shaker over ice cubes.  
  6. Shake vigorously.  
  7. Pour through a strainer into a chilled coupette glass, leaving the ice behind.  
  8. Garnish with saffron threads.

This Purim, you can perfom the mitzvah of getting tipsy while savoring Persia’s unique flavors.  With vodka as your neutral palette, you can add the interesting accents of pomegranate, rosewater, saffron, and lime.  Chag Purim Sameach!  Happy Purim!

Enhance Your Purim with a Delicious Chocolate Babka

— Michael Schapira

Cook Kosher has created a video guide to making an excellent Babka with minimum effort. It is a Purim favorite and great for Mishloach Manot!  Please cook along with this clip.

Chocolate Babka Recipe after the jump.

— Dough:

  • 2 oz fresh yeast (or 6 3/4 tsp dry yeast)
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 6 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 12 oz margarine (3sticks)
  • 1/2 cup warm orange juice
  • 4 eggs
  • pinch salt

— Filing:

  • 2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 cup sifted cocoa
  • 2 Tbsp coffee granules
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla sugar

— Topping:

  • 4 oz margarine (1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla sugar

— To assemble:

  • oil for smearing
  • 1 egg, beaten for egg wash


— Dough:

  1. Dissolve the yeast in the water with a drop of the sugar.
  2. After it has completely dissolved, combine with the remaining ingredients in the mixer bowl.
  3. Mix well with a dough hook to obtain a smooth dough.
  4. Cover and allow to rise for 1 hour.

— Filling:

  1. Mix all ingredients and mix well.

— Topping:

  1. Mix by hand to form crumbs.

— To assemble:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Grease 3 loaf pan. Divide dough into 3 parts. Work with one section at time.
  3. Roll the dough to double the length of the pan (about the size of a cookie sheet) and smear with oil.
  4. Smear 1/3 of the chocolate filling over the dough.
  5. Roll up jelly roll style and pinch the ends closed.
  6. Fold the roll in half and twist 3 times.
  7. Transfer to loaf pan.
  8. Brush with beaten egg.
  9. Sprinkle the streusel over the entire roll.
  10. Repeat with the remaining two parts of dough.
  11. Bake for 1 hour.

Please rate and review this babka recipe.

Visit CookKosher.com for more kosher recipes.

Misadventures In Baking: Homemade Poppy Seed Hamantashen

— by Ronit Treatman

When the Jewish holidays arrive, I sometimes reminisce about my grandmother Devorah, who I loved dearly.  My children never met her.  This Purim, I decided to bake her poppy seed hamantashen.  This is my way of sharing with my kids what it was like to be with her.  The recipe comes from one of her favorite cookbooks, A Taste of Tradition, by Ruth Sirkis.  This book was published in 1972, and is considered an Israeli classic.  

More after the jump.

Hamantashen can be made with cookie dough or yeast dough.  Ruth Sirkis’s recipe calls for a yeast dough.  

Yeast Hamantashen Dough
Adapted from A Taste of Tradition, by Ruth Sirkis

  • 5 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cake of fresh yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest

  1. Pour the warm water into a large bowl.  
  2. Mix in the sugar and yeast.  
  3. When the mixture starts bubbling, add 2 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup warm milk.  
  4. Stir well, cover with a kitchen towel, and allow to rest for about ten minutes.  
  5. Uncover the dough and add two eggs, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1/4 cup of butter, the rest of the flour, and orange or lemon zest.  
  6. Knead the dough well, for about ten minutes.
  7. Rub a clean bowl with vegetable oil, and turn the dough into it.  
  8. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, and allow to stand in a warm place for about two hours.
  9. After two hours, punch the dough down.  
  10. Allow it to rise for 45 minutes.  Punch the dough down again, and shape it into a ball.

The yeast dough is ready to be shaped into hamantashen.

I mixed the dough with some trepidation.  I am famous for concocting yeast doughs that do not rise.  This dough is unbelievably foolproof.  It rose for me on the first try!  Now it was time to prepare the filling.

Hamantashen Poppy Seed Filling
Adapted from A Taste of Tradition, by Ruth Sirkis

  • 1 1/2 cups raw poppy seeds
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 tablespoons raw honey
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

  1. Place the raisins in a cup with boiling water to plump.  
  2. Pour the milk into a pot.  Bring to a slow boil.  Add the poppy seeds, butter, and sugar.  Simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed.  
  3. Drain the raisins, and add to the poppy seed mixture.  
  4. Add the honey, lemon juice, and lemon zest.  Mix everything well and allow to cool.

As we mixed the poppy seed filling, I told my children how my grandmother and I would take the Egged bus to Tel-Aviv to buy the ingredients for it.  We would go to a special spice store in the Carmel Market.  This store smelled like freshly ground coffee and cardamom.  It was like an apothecary, with each spice stored in its own special wooden drawer.  The salesperson wrapped each spice with a piece of paper, transforming it into a package.  We brought our own fabric bags from home, and stored our spices in them for our ride back.

I preheated the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  We sprinkled some flour on a clean countertop.  Then we rolled the dough out.  I used a wineglass in place of a cookie cutter to cut out circles of dough, just as Safta Devorah used to do.  We placed a teaspoon of filling in the middle of each circle of dough.  We pinched three sides of the circle closed to form the hamentashen shape.  Then we prepared an egg wash by beating together an egg yolk with some water.  We arranged the hamentashen on a cookie sheet, and painted each one with egg wash.  We baked them until they turned golden brown, for about 25 minutes.

The hamentashen emerged from the oven, so golden and fragrant.  We didn’t even wait for them to cool down a little.  We just had to taste them!  I bit into my first hamentashen.  It was soft, pillowy, and delicious! The flavor of the filling was perfect!  It was exactly as I remember my grandmother preparing it.  The mouthfeel of these poppy seeds was a different story.  The texture was, as my husband so eloquently put it, “like chewing on glass beads!”  

Why did this happen?  When I baked these hamentashen, I reversed the order.  I made the dough first, and then I cooked the filling.  In my impatience, I did not wait for the poppy seed filling to cool completely.  Do not do this!  The laws of physics are such that poppy seeds need to be given time to absorb enough liquids to be pleasingly soft to the palate.  Another solution suggested in all the American websites I checked is to grind the poppy seeds before adding them to the pot.

I will definitely bake these hamentashen again.  Next time, I will be astute and patient enough to cook the poppy seed mixture first, and to let it cool completely before using it.  To me, Ruth Sirkis’s recipe still produces the most delicious poppy seed hamentashen.  There is not a store bought hamentashen that can compare!

A Persian Purim Feast From The Non-Persian Bride

— by Ronit Treatman

Have you ever wondered how Persian Jews celebrate Purim?  What do they serve to rejoice over their salvation from Haman?  After all, their ancestors were directly affected.  Up to this point, I could only wonder, because the Persian Jewish community is very insular, and recipes are a closely guarded family secret.  Now, it is possible to learn about these Jewish Persian customs from Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love, whose author, Reyna Simnegar, has a lot in common with Queen Esther.

More after the jump.
Reyna Simnegar, whose first name means “queen,” was born in Venezuela to a Catholic family.  She attended Catholic school, and thought she was like every other Venezuelan Catholic she grew up with.  But there were hints in her family that they were different.  For example, there were paintings of Saint Esther in the family home.  Saint Esther carries special symbolism for families of anusim (forced converts).  Esther represents a Jew who hid her identity until it was safe to reemerge.  The anusim transformed her into a Catholic saint.   This was a covert way for them to keep her as a beacon of hope that some day they could return to being openly Jewish.  At about age fifteen, Reyna’s Aunt Sarah whispered the truth to her.  “Our family if of Jewish origin,” she was told.  

Reyna Simnegar decided to return to her roots.  She underwent an orthodox conversion.  She then proceeded to marry a Jewish Persian man.  Her mother in law, Mrs. Shahla Simnegar, invited Reyna into the kitchen, and taught her all about the family’s secret recipes and customs.  Reyna has published these in a sumptuous new cookbook.  This book is not just about Persian food and recipes, but also about Jewish Persian customs.  On page 343, Reyna maps out the menu of a Persian Purim feast, from appetizers to desserts.  On this menu are such exotic dishes as Chelo (Persian rice) on page 186, and Persian Halvah on page 299.

My family had a lot of fun discovering something completely different to prepare for Purim in this book.  We call it Queen Esther’s Ice Cream.  On page 301, Reyna Simnegar has a recipe for Bastani, or Saffron Ice Cream.  We transformed this recipe into an activity.

Queen Esther’s Ice Cream

  • 3 scoops vanilla ice cream (dairy or pareve)
  • Rose water
  • Saffron threads
  • Pistachio nuts

Each person was served three scoops of vanilla ice cream.  We went with premium dairy ice cream.  

When Rosa Damascena rose petals are steamed to extract rose oil (used for perfume), what is left behind is called rose water.   Rose water has been used in Persian cuisine since ancient times.  It imparts a distinctive flavor and aroma to the food.  It contains no alcohol.  We passed the bottle of rose water around for everyone to smell. We each put a little bit of rose water in our ice cream.

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world!  Saffron spice is made from the stigmas (or threads) of the Crocus sativus flower, which are individually handpicked and then dried.  Saffron gives a golden hue to foods, a special aroma, and sweet flavor.  We purchased a small sachet of saffron threads.  Every family member crumbled a little bit of the beautiful, scarlet dried crocus threads into our ice cream.

Pistachio nuts originated in Persia.  They are widely used in Persian recipes.  We peeled some unsalted, roasted pistachios (tasting some as we worked of course!).  All of us added some to our bowl.  Reyna Simnegar’s recipe calls for slivered pistachios, but we were not so refined!  We just threw them in whole.

We mixed all the ingredients together, and tasted the ice cream.  I wasn’t sure that my children would like the rose water flavor.  This is a condiment I never cook with.  The resulting ice cream was creamy and crunchy.  The flavors of the rose water, vanilla, saffron, and pistachio perfectly balanced each other.  This truly felt like an exotic dish from a foreign place to us.  It is so delicious; it is genuinely worthy of a queen’s banquet!

Buying Reyna Simnegar’s book, Persian Food from the Non-persian Bridee, is not an exercise in self-indulgence.  All proceeds go to charity.  She has donated to Chabad houses, where she has been invited to give talks.  “My charity of choice is Tomchei Shabbat (feeding the poor for Shabbat) and I also want to support Achnasa Kallah (helping brides to start their life),” she writes in response to my query about her charitable giving.  So go ahead and treat yourself to this book.  It’s a mitzvah!

The Great Latke-Hamantaschen Debate

Austan Goolsbee, former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, advocates for the latke at the 61st annual Latke-Hamantashen Debate on November 26, 2007.

Gary Tubb, Professor in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, advocates for the hamantashen at the 62nd annual Latke-Hamantashen Debate on November 25, 2008.

By Hannah Lee

Since 1946, the intellectual nerds at the University of Chicago have had fun giving annual mock-serious presentations on the relative merits of the fried latke versus the baked hamantaschen.  Its popularity has spread to other campuses, including Kenyon College, Middlebury College, Stanford Law School, George Washington University, Amherst College, Swarthmore College, Williams College, Wesleyan University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Brandeis University, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, the University of Minnesota, Mount Holyoke, Bowdoin College, UCSD, Haverford College, Johns Hopkins University, University of Denver, Buntport Theater, and one secondary school Milton Academy.  Yeshiva University held its own debate for the first time on November 22nd and Team Hamantasch won.

I learned about these annual debates when my daughter enrolled at the University of Chicago and was even invited to serve as banner-carrier.  This year’s debate was re-labelled  “Sixty-Five and Never Retiring: A debate over Social Security like no other,” but I think the more fun symposia are on the original topic of food preferences.  The “The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate” published in 2005 by the University of Chicago Press and edited by Ruth Fredman Cernea includes “Consolations of the Latke” delivered by Philosophy Professor Ted Cohen at the 1976 Latke-Hamantash Debate.  

So, which do you prefer: the latke or the hamantaschen?  

Free Noisemaker Gragger App for your iPhone this Purim

Happy Purim!

Just in time for this year’s megillah reading! Now, you can use your iPhone to participate in a customary Jewish megillah reading experience-using a noisemaker, or gragger, to drown out Haman’s name. Noisemaker Gragger is a free iPhone app from Behrman House Publishers pre-loaded with fun sounds and you can even record your own sounds to play when you hear Haman’s name. It even works like a traditional gragger, just spin it around above your head to make noise. Give your students a link to download this app (it’s free!) and explain that the action (of using the gragger) reminds us to use our voices to speak louder than the voices of evil.

The Noisemake Gragger app is a virtual gragger on your iPhone.  You can pick from different sounds or record your own and twirl your iPhone like a gragger to make noise.  Remember to wait for Haman’s name.

Get Noisemaker Gragger on iTunes now.

Purim from the Outside-In

An Outsider’s Take On Purim’s Public Relations Problem

— Julie D. Bartha

First off, you should know that I am not Jewish. I grew up in the Morrell Park neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized my neighborhood was a Catholic island surrounded by a sea of synagogues. I had never even heard of Purim until well into my adulthood.

When I was a little kid, my parents decided to not raise us within an organized religion. They let us kids seek religious truths for ourselves, and I’ve always been grateful for that. It allowed me to explore a variety of faiths with an open mind. But I was also a little lonely growing up. The others kids all seemed to have a sense of belonging that I lacked.

More after the jump.
I went to public school, mostly with other Catholic kids who couldn’t afford Catholic school tuitions. I can only remember two other Jewish kids in my classes. Elliot Avidan hated me because my mom got me braces for my enormous buck teeth when I was just 9, and when his mom found out, she got the name of our orthodontist and slapped a set of those metal bad boys on his choppers later that same year. (To be honest, his buck-toothed smile was just about the only one bigger than mine back then.) Francine Greenberg lived around the corner from me, and we often played together at her house and mine. But I was always a little jealous of Fran because of our third grade teacher, Mrs. Ginsberg.

Mrs. Ginsberg was my most favorite teacher – in fact, she inspired me to become a writer. (I remember the moment distinctly: she returned my brown construction paper-covered writing journal to me one day after grading it, and said, “I love reading your journal, Julie. You write the funniest stories.”) But Mrs. Ginsberg was also Jewish. And her first name was Fran too. They had that special bond. That year, I so wished my parents had made me Jewish. And had named me Fran.
Outside of Elliot, Fran and Mrs. Ginsberg, the only other things I knew about Jewish people while growing up was that: they read Hebrew from right to left (which I thought was cool), Yiddish words sounded like sneezes; and that Hanukah sounded like a better holiday than Christmas – eight days of presents as opposed to one, of course — until I learned that most of the time, those presents were different colored pairs of socks.
Which brings me to Purim. As a writer with a good deal of publicity experience under my belt, I feel obliged to tell you that you have this ongoing public relations problem. Your holidays are always in the shadow of the Christian holidays. There’s CHRISTMAS! And hannukah. There’s EASTER! And… purim? Even today, as more of the Jewish holidays and culture have become widely known to the general public, very few people know what Purim is, or how it’s celebrated.

I think the problem is in the advertising. Jewish holidays need better marketing. Like a mascot. Or a logo. For Christmas, we have SANTA and a BIG BRIGHT TREE. Now that’s something you can get excited about. For Hanukah, you have some fancy-looking candle holder and that little wooden top. That’s like giving your kid a deck of Uno cards when they could have a Playstation. For Easter, we have a GIANT EGG-HIDING BUNNY. You don’t forget a big giant bunny! That’s a memorable image And a little scary. But for Purim, you have … what is it? A scroll?

The timing is bad too. I know that you have this whole “follow the Jewish calendar” tradition, but positioning Purim so close to Easter creates an unnecessary competition. Consider a fixed date. In fact, this year, you had a golden opportunity to make Purim the hot, happening holiday, and you didn’t take advantage of it.

I understand that there’s a lot of – ahem – merriment associated with Purim. Like Mardi Gras, but with more Manischewitz. St. Patrick’s Day was just two days ago. If more people knew about Purim ahead of time, they could have made a weekend out of it. Everybody I knew becomes Irish for a day. If you can swing juggling the 14th day of Adar so that it lands next to St. Patty’s Day next year, party lovers everywhere will jump at the chance to become Jewish the day after.

The Feast of Lots ends with the unity toast for a reason — nothing brings people together better than drinking.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve made a point of learning more substantial things about Judaism. I’ve interviewed rabbis about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, attended Passover Seders and have come to have a real appreciation for the rituals and sense of community you all share. As an outsider, I’m still a little jealous. I may have a scary egg-hiding bunny to cling to once a year, but I understand that bond Fran and Mrs. Ginsberg shared. You truly have the whole Megilla, in every way that counts.

And now that I know that it’s not a sneeze, I offer, on this Purim holiday, my sincere, heartfelt, L’Chaim! To you. To Fran. To Mrs. Ginsberg. And even to Elliot. Hopefully now that his teeth are straight, he’s forgiven me.

Northeast Philadelphia native Julie D. Bartha is a writer and editor based out of Burlington, New Jersey. Her WordNerdGirl blog can be found at wordnerdgirl.blogspot.com

Purim Humor by Daylin Leach, Minyan Maker In Harrisburg

— Daylin Leach

When I was elected in 2002, I became the tenth Jewish legislator in Pennsylvania. Thus, because of me, we now had a minyan in Harrisburg. We could theoretically get together to daven three times each day. And although we never actually have (I said “theoretically”) it was empowering to know that we could.

Flush with this newfound sense of power, we set about to make state government more overtly Jewish. Of course, when I say “we”, I should note that the other nine Jewish members were not actually with me on this. In fact, some of them actually formed a committee to find a non-Jew to convert, so that they could have a minyan that never meets which did notinclude me. Nonetheless, I lifted my head high, started humming “I am Jewish, Hear me Roar” and set about changing the world.

More after the jump.
I considered a number of different proposals to launch my Make-Harrisburg-Jewish (“MHJ”) initiative. I introduced a resolution declaring that the official state cookie be the hamentash. Sadly however, in what I considered to be a slap in the face, the House chose the Chocolate-Chunk Ham Cookie instead. I next tried to introduce a resolution honoring Esther’s father Mordecai. But there was some confusion because of a previous resolution I had introduced honoring my Uncle Mordecai for teaching me how to cook smelts.

I also tried to inject a little of my heritage into the work-a-day world of the legislature. For example, whenever a lobbyist for the hazardous sludge industry would buy me dinner, I would say the Motze. Also, I would go light on the lobster. I also tried to use Yiddish in some of my floor debate. Although I learned fairly quickly that the Speaker of the House did not take well to being referred to as Meshuggana.

Finally, I settled on the idea of trying to get at least one Jewish holiday recognized as an official state holiday, like all of the major Christian holidays are. This seemed only fair. But which one? Yom Kippur was too somber, and legislators are not big on either fasting or atonement. For a while I was big on having Pennsylvania recognize Tu B’Shevat. When some representative from Cambria or Pike County would ask what Tu B’Shevat was, I would simply reply “It’s the Rosh HaShanah for trees, silly”.

I even organized a huge rally in the capitol rotunda for my Tu B’Shevat bill, although admittedly having the rally under the 60 foot high Christmas tree did distract from the message. But that did not really matter because no one actually showed up at the press conference except for a writer from Sushi! Magazine who misunderstood the press release.

But I persevered. After equally unsuccessful attempts to gain state recognition for Rosh Chodesh Sivan, The Month of Av, and “Beer Day” (I briefly went in a different direction), I settled on the joyous holiday of Purim. What better day to make an official holiday? The schools and banks would close. Appliance stores would hold big sales, and families would gather in public parks to play with noisemakers, boo Haman and listen to a P.Diddy concert.

Unfortunately, I have not yet been successful. In fact I learned quickly how many impediments there are to good things becoming law in Harrisburg. First, the Chairman of the “Minority Religions and other Pagan Groups” Committee refused to support the bill. Then the “Sons of Haman” weighed in, and they have a lot of clout in Harrisburg (who knew?) Soon thereafter, the chemical lobby came out against my bill because it failed to adequately promote the use of any dangerous toxins whatsoever. Finally, the entire Republican Party accused me of being a Democrat and said they could never support any legislation under those circumstances.

Although Purim is still not an official holiday, some good did come of my efforts. First, I did manage to get Uncle Morty’s Smelt Bill passed. Also, my Purim bill has become a very effective “poison pill”. When anyone wants to kill any major proposal on gambling or property taxes, they just slip in the Purim Amendment and the bill dies. Finally, I learned a lot about how Harrisburg really works, and I will use that knowledge to get my latest proposal to change put “Pennsylvania, the Simchas Torah State” on all automobile license plates by the end of the year. Happy Purim!