Purimville at the London Jewish Book Fair

Kids (and Karen) enjoyed a fabulous afternoon at the London Jewish Book Fair. Karen read Problems in Purimville to a lovely group of kids, who made great sound effects and did a little singing in high pitched hamantashy voices. (If you want to know what a hamantashy voice is, you should either read Purimville or attend a Purimville book reading!). All the participants then made their own noisy hamantashies and clothed them in wonderfully creative costumes. Here are some examples…and thanks to all for an afternoon of tremendous fun.

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November 14th, 2010

Anchovies at Hanukkah? Here’s a reason and a recipe

Anchovies on Hanukkah? Here’s a good reason why…

The book of Judith is commonly associated with Hanukkah (keep reading – I will get back to the anchovies!). It is a favourite of mine for various reasons. The story is generally regarded as an early work of historical fiction, one of my favourite genres. I also love a strong Jewish heroine – they’re not so easy to come by. As well as being devout and exquisitely beautiful, Judith is a woman of action.

Judith’s town of Bethulia is besieged by the Assyrian army, led by cruel General Holofernes, a heartless man who shows no mercy for his victims – women and children included. Starving and thirsty, all hope abandoned, the townspeople are ready to surrender. Judith, however, is the exception – a woman to be reckoned with. Accompanied by her maidservant, she approaches the enemy camp. Relying on her wits and beauty, she persuades the guards she has information that will help the Assyrians capture Bethulia. Judith is clearly convincing. The guards admit her into the camp and escort her to the tent of General Holofernes, himself.

Holofernes is beguiled by Judith’s beauty and invites her to stay a while. Judith accepts the invitation. Shortly thereafter, according to some accounts, she offers Holofernes a large quantity of salty cheese to eat. He eats the cheese and becomes very thirsty, imbibing a whole lot of wine in order to slake his thirst. Consequently, Holofernes ends up in a hazy, drunken stupor, allowing Judith to seize his sword and cut off his head. Then, cool as a cucumber, Judith tucks Holofernes’ head into a bag, takes leave of the camp, and returns to her town where she does what I imagine to be a rather dramatic show and tell for the town leaders.

The people of Bethulia, their spirits renewed by Judith’s good tidings, launch an attack on the Assyrians. The Assyrians are shocked at finding themselves with no commander (or rather, with a headless commander), and flee for their lives. Judith saves the day!

At this point, you may quite reasonably be asking, “So where do the anchovies fit in?” Well, I propose that we pay tribute to Judith’s crafty use of salty cheese by including a few well salted foods in our Hanukkah festivities. But why choose the anchovy, when in today’s society, other less fishy and equally salty foods abound. The answer is found in the perfection of the following recipe for polenta and anchovy fritters, which combines the saltiness of anchovies with the traditional Hanukkah custom of frying in plenty of hot oil. The fritters are actually delicious, provide an unusual alternative to latkes, and with their salty anchovies and cheese, pay a food based tribute to Judith at Hanukkah time.

Stuffed Polenta Fritters

adapted from Cucina Ebraica, Flavours of the Italian Jewish Kitchen by Joyce Goldstein

(For a dairy free version, simply exclude the cheese. The fritters are still very tasty.)

1 cup cornmeal
4 cups of water
1 tsp salt
A couple of jars of anchovies
¼ lb grated mozzarella cheese
1-2 eggs, beaten lightly
Flour for dusting
Olive oil
Vegetable oil for deep frying

Combine polenta, water and salt in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil, whisking occasionally. Turn heat down to a simmer and stir frequently until the mixture is very thick. This will take about 30 minutes.

Pour the mixture onto a greased baking sheet and chill until firm.

Rinse the anchovies gently. Place them in a saute pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil over low heat. Cook, stirring often, until the anchovies soften and melt. Remove from the heat.

Cut the chilled polenta into rounds. Spread half of them with the anchovy puree and sprinkle with some grated cheese. Top them with the remaining rounds.

Pour vegetable oil into a wide, deep pan to a depth of 2 inches. Heat oil over medium-high heat (to about 375 degrees F). If you don’t have a thermometer, make certain that the oil is hot enough by dropping in a bit of polenta. If it bubbles energetically, you’re good to go. Meanwhile, beat eggs until blended and spread some flour on a plate.

Dip polenta sandwiches a few at a time into the beaten egg, then into the flour. Carefully place them into the hot oil and fry, turning once, until nice and golden (about 4 minutes in total). Do NOT overcrowd the pan or you will end up with soggy, greasy sandwiches. Place golden sandwiches on paper towels to drain. Serve warm and ENJOY!


So you’re thinking….what could this possibly have to do with Jewish themed books for kids?  And no, I am not simply trying to drive traffic to my web site by riding the coat tails of the Borgia tv series (which I admit, I have yet to watch).  However, I am currently immersed in the colorful world of 15th century Italy – and more specifically 1490’s Florence, as I embark on the rewriting of the Medici Adventure, which will (I hope) eventually be a great and entertaining read for 9-12 year olds.

Naturally, Savonarola plays a significant role in this age and place.  He is a fascinating character, and as I tend to easily become side tracked (aka procrastinate), I followed the Dominican friar’s rather turbulent path as he barrelled headlong into a deadly conflict with Pope Alexander VI (the Borgia pope), that ended in Savonarola’s untimely demise.  I have read several well respected accounts of Savonarola’s life that paint him as a dynamic leader, a man of the people, a fighter of corruption (in Florence and in Rome).  However, I believe that his good works did not extend to the Jews, who I gather, were expelled from Florence under the Savonarola supported new Republic.  In contrast, the Borgia pope, for all of his corrupt practices, allowed Spanish refugee conversos to take up residence in Rome (following their banishment from Spain in 1492), and while the Jews were forced to provide significant financial support for Borgia’s campaigns, they were permitted to reside in the city in relative peace.

So where am I going with this?  I am going to try to find a good resource that addresses Savonarola’s less than laudable dealings with the Jews (along with a few other groups that he pegged as undesirable).  If appropriate, I will share what I learn on these pages.  But I will also try to share some facts about the characters that play a more significant role in the Medici Adventure.  As you might guess, they include the great and complicated Lorenzo de Medici and his offspring (in greater and lesser roles). In addition, the young Michelangelo plays a supporting role.   The other characters will remain my secret for now.

And now… back to my reading.

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October 6th, 2011

Little Known Facts About Jacob, Sarah and the Others (Posted by Karen’s daughter)

Facts About Jacob

  1. Jacob always wears striped pyjamas. He wore red and white striped in Latkaland and blue and white striped in Purimville.
  2. Jacob has a cat (on page 12 there is a picture of him) named Michaelangelo.

Facts About Sarah

  1. Sarah doesn’t like wearing sneakers. She doesn’t wear them at all during the books.
  2. Sarah thinks her hair is annoying and wants to cut it short, but she hasn’t yet so she always has it tied back.

Facts About Mr Mendelsohn

1. Mr Mendelsohn once won a beard contest for the best looking beard. He liked his beard and has never shaved it off.

Facts About The Lunchkins

1. Oily’s great great great great grandma’s great aunt invented latkes.
2. 20 years later, Lunchkin agricultural specialists perfected the latke potato.
3. After countless accidents, latke potato graters and latke fryers were required to wear full protective gear.

Facts About Hamantashies

1. The hamantashen bakers use every kind of hamantashen filling, but the most popular are raspberry jam, strawberry jam, and poppy seed.
2. The costume makers make every kind of costume but their favourites are kings, mermaids and poodles.
3. The gragger makers always paint their signature on the handle in purple paint so you will know if a hamantashy made your gragger!

Facts About Goblins

1. Every Goblin is a slightly different shade of green, and they can be tinged yellow, orange, purple, or red.

2. Goblin’s powers vary. Sometimes when they mean to turn something into a frog it will turn into a unicorn.

Facts About Gremlins

1. Most Gremlins naturally smell like the spray that they use.

2. The most common sprays goblins use are: brussell sprouts, rotten fish, rotten fruit, rotten eggs, chili peppers or jalapeno peppers.

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October 6th, 2011

Yuvi’s Candy Tree, By Lesley Simpson

As promised, I will continue to pass along the many fabulous titles that I heard about at the Jewish Book Network event for kids’ and y/a authors.  Although Pesach is over for this year, I will post a reminder again pre-Pesach 2012 for Yuvi’s Candy Tree, a picture book for 4-8 year olds by Toronto based Lesley Simpson.

The book is based on the real story of Yuvi Tashome, and tells of her remarkable escape from Ethiopia to Israel.  Yuvi’s Candy Tree is a book that I will discuss with my kids prior to our seders next Pesach.  I thought that, even though my children are in grades 4 and 5, it would be a great spring board from which to explore the story of the Ethiopian Jews.  Each year, our family tries to find a current issue that reflects a theme of exploitation and liberation.  We do some research together on the issue, and then put together an age-appropriate presentation for the seder.  Yuvi’s Candy Tree is a perfect starting point.  And I love (thanks to Lesley and Yuvi) that I’m already ahead of the game for next year – a most unusual state of being for me!

More entries on the way.  Next up: Dori Weinstein’s Sliding into the New Year.

Jewish Book Network – May 23, 2011

Just returned from NYC where I attended the Jewish Book Network luncheon and presented Problems in Purimville.  What a wonderful and daunting couple of hours!  Each of the 20 children’s authors/illustrators had exactly 2 minutes to present his or her book to the audience of Jewish book organizer folk that attended the event from all reaches of the US.

While I was reasonably happy with my own presentation (though my bar was set low – not passing out from nervousness was one of my success criteria!), the best part of the event was getting to hear about some fabulous new books that are either just out or to be released over the next few months.  Of particular interest to me, with my fantasy loving kids who are now just finishing grades 4 and 5, was an intriguing title by Chris Moriarty entitled The Inquisitor’s Apprentice. Chris explained that she wrote the book so that her son could “read a fantasy series where a nice Jewish boy gets to be the hero instead of the comic relief.”  Sadly, the title won’t be released until October, but I, for one, will be pre-ordering it for my kids.

I plan to write more about the different titles that were presented over the next few days.  But now I need to catch up with more mundane regular life stuff back in Toronto.

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May 24th, 2011

Esther and the Dutch: Purim in Rembrandt’s Amsterdam

On March 7, 1640, on the eve of Purim, the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam crowded into their Talmud Torah synagogue just off the Breestraat.   Some would have been attired in costume and others might have clutched noisemakers.  All, however, eagerly awaited the reading of the Megillat Esther to be followed by an evening of revelry and merriment.   During the service, the congregation booed with enthusiasm whenever the villain Haman’s name was read, just as we do today. Afterwards, the congregants spilled out into the streets of the Vlooienburg  quarter,  continuing their Purim celebration with such abandon that one of the rabbis, perhaps the wise and worldly Menasseh ben Israel, warned to keep it down so as not to upset their Dutch neighbours.

While it is true that some Dutch, most notably the more conservative members of the Dutch Reformed Church, may have been troubled by the Purim revelry, many would have likely been intrigued by the celebrations and, quite possibly, were present as observers.  Amongst the observers could have been the renowned painter, Rembrandt van Rijn, who lived in the Jewish quarter and, as evidenced by the Semitic themes and characters that populated his artwork, was fascinated by his Jewish neighbours and their stories – including the story of Esther.

Scenes from the Megillat Esther appear in many of Rembrandt’s works – his etchings, drawings and paintings.  But while Rembrandt’s work may stand out by virtue of his remarkable talent, Esther and the cast of Purim characters make frequent appearances in the art of many other 17th century Dutch painters.  In fact, at no other time or place in Europe did the story of Esther have a greater artistic presence than in the literary and visual arts of the 17th century Netherlands.    Moreover, while earlier paintings of Esther were usually a prefiguration of characters from the Christian bible, often commissioned to grace the walls and ceilings of churches, Dutch interest in the Purim story came directly from the people themselves.  As the Dutch Reformed Church gave a sweeping interpretation to the commandment prohibiting graven images, the walls of the Reformed churches were quite bare.  In  contrast, the average Dutchman (or woman) regarded the painted image with delight.  Dutch from all walks of life collected art, and paintings appeared in the salons of the rich, as well as on the walls of the local butcher or bake shop.

Why, one might ask, did the Dutch, artists and patrons alike, take such interest in a minor bible story – one that was not even definitively accepted as part of the Christian canon until 1546?  And why, for that matter, did the Purim holiday provoke such enthusiastic and raucous celebration amongst Amsterdam’s refined and genteel Sephardic Jews? As it turns out, the interest of both communities is rooted in a similar theme – a theme of religious liberation.

Around the beginning of the 17th century, Sephardic Jews began to arrive in Amsterdam, either directly or indirectly from Spain and Portugal, where the inquisition was still in full swing.  As conversos or new Christians, these secret Jews would have been subject to dangerous scrutiny in their countries of origin. Upon arrival in Amsterdam, however, they encountered a far different climate.  Freedom of religion was enshrined in Dutch society by the Union of Utrecht, which provided that “[e]very individual should remain free in his religion, and no man should be molested or questioned on the subject of divine worship.”  While this particular article was drafted before the Jews, secret or otherwise, had arrived in the Dutch provinces (and without consideration of their presence), it reflected a remarkable level of religious tolerance for its time and place.

In Amsterdam, the conversos found a home where they could reclaim their Jewish identities and prosper financially.  This new Jewish community brought valuable business networks to Amsterdam, an advantage that did not go unnoticed by the Dutch authorities who, by 1619, declared the Jews free to worship publicly in the province of Holland.  The Sephardic community initially split into three separate congregations (synagogue politics being timeless!).  However, in 1639, differences were set aside and the congregations combined into one.  Henceforth, the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam worshipped together in the Talmud Torah synagogue, just off the Breestraat, in the very neighbourhood where Rembrandt had his home.   And amongst the congregation’s learned rabbinate was Menasseh Ben Israel, an acquaintance and collaborator of Rembrandt, who illustrated Ben Israel’s book, Piedra Gloriosa.

The Sephardic Jewish community thrived in an Amsterdam where different cultures and religious beliefs were, at the least, viewed with a stiff-lipped tolerance, if not with downright acceptance.  In 1675, the dedication ceremony of the grand new Sephardic synagogue drew a massive crowd of Jews and non-Jews alike, including many high ranking city officials.  Where else in 17th century Christian Europe would such a sight be seen?

It is no wonder that the Purim story was so embraced by the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam, and that they celebrated it with such joyous abandon.  Esther’s experience as a secret Jew within the palace of King Ahasueros would certainly have resonated with this community, not far removed from their own experiences as conversos. In addition, these Jews, now able to celebrate their true religious identities both privately and publicly, without fear of persecution, felt a particular affinity with the Jews of Persia as they overcame the threat of Haman’s edict and gained strength and prosperity .  Accordingly, as the Jews of Persia celebrated, so did the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam!

And what of the Dutch Protestants and their interest in the story of Esther?  As Calvinists, the Dutch were encouraged to study the Jewish Bible – their Old Testament.  As such, the Purim story would have been known to them as one among many other biblical stories.  The celebration of Purim would certainly have been familiar to any Dutch gentiles living in and around the Vlooienburg quarter, the heart of Amsterdam’s Jewish community.  But as we’ve already noted, interest in the story stretched well beyond the Vlooienburg quarter.

It has been suggested that perhaps it was the Sephardic Jews that stimulated painterly interest in the story of Esther.  They were, after all, a prosperous community and many were avid art collectors.  In addition, we know that they had a special attachment to the Purim holiday. However, while there is reason to believe that at least some Purim themed paintings ended up on the walls of prosperous Sephardic households, there is no specific evidence of these paintings being commissioned by members of the community itself.

Perhaps the most compelling explanation for Dutch interest in the story of Esther is rooted in their own fight for religious freedom.  In the 16th century, as Protestantism was spreading rapidly throughout the Spanish Netherlands, powerful Catholic Spain imposed a regime of religious oppression.  The Dutch rebelled, and Spain responded by sending the ruthless Duke of Alba with an army of thousands to quash Dutch resistance.  Somehow, miraculously, in the early 17th century, the tiny Dutch nation achieved freedom after battles waged that, according to the Dutch retelling, could only have been won by divine intervention.   The Dutch, knowledgeable about the Old Testament, began to identify themselves as the new Israelites.  And with artists such as Rembrandt living amongst the Jewish community, attention was drawn to the story of Esther.  It was a compelling parallel.  Mordecai and Esther came to symbolize the heroic leaders of the Dutch rebellion, and of course, wicked Haman served as a stand-in for the heartless Duke of Alba.

The holiday of Purim is a marvelous one for many reasons.  We enjoy its comedic elements on their own merits and celebrate the victory of the Jews of Persia over wicked Haman.  We watch our kids as they thrill to the excitement of attending synagogue dressed in favourite costumes, making plenty of noise during the Purim service, encouraged by parents and rabbi alike, and of course, eating more than a few tasty hamantashen.  But perhaps this year, as we revel in the celebrations, we can also take a moment to appreciate the religious freedom that we in North America take for granted – the religious freedom that drew Jews and Protestants of 17th century Amsterdam to the story of Esther.

From Karen’s Daughter

Hi, I’m Karen’s daughter, and she said I could put something on her blog, so I’m doing it now!

I am here to raise awareness of the yumminess of Purimville’s homemade hamentashen. They are really good, like really really really good, trust me. I am not just saying that. I brought them into my class, and everyone told me how good they were. So I recommend you try making them because they are delicious.

I am also here to raise awareness of my mom’s book, which is really good and is currently being made into a movie (not really).

That’s all for now!

Rachel :)

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April 27th, 2011

The Purim Story

The Purim holiday

The holiday of Purim is celebrated in a fashion that is enjoyed by young and old alike. Children (and some grownups) dress up in costume, eat tasty triangular shaped cookies called hamantashen, and are, this one time a year, allowed to make lots of noise at synagogue whenever the villain’s name is read during the retelling of the Purim story. Which brings us, of course, to the very reason for the celebration…the Purim story itself.

How the story begins…

The story begins with a huge feast in a luxurious Persian palace in Shushan. The host is none other than the ruler of Persia, King Ahasueros,who has regular hankerings for great displays of decadence. Persians from all over the realm attend the party and gorge themselves on food and drink to their heart’s content.

After days of feasting, Ahasueros, who is presumably in a bit of a drunken stupor, brags to his guests about the extraordinary beauty of his wife, Queen Vashti. He orders Vashti to appear naked before the assembled party. Vashti, reasonably enough, declines to make an appearance, at which point Ahasueros, taking the counsel of his drunken advisors, orders her to to be executed.

Some time later…

After the feast and the ensuing hangovers have passed, Ahasueros begins to pine for his queen. I’m guessing that at this point, his advisors are in a bit of a tizzy, being the ones that counseled the king to get rid of Vashti. So they put their collective heads together and come up with a plan: the king should hold a beauty contest from which he will select the loveliest woman in Persia to be the next queen.

Now it so happens that right in Shushan, there resides a Jew named Mordecai. Mordecai is the uncle and guardian of a “shapely and beautiful” young Jewess named Esther. (My read of the story is that she had to be pretty smart as well, and quite courageous. But for now we’ll leave it at shapely and beautiful.) After the king’s edict is proclaimed, Esther is gathered up along with all of the other fair maidens in the realm, and brought to the palace. She spends the next year or so living in a harem with the other candidates, all the while keeping her Jewish identity a secret. Eventually, Esther is summoned to the king, and somehow, wins him over so that he “love(s) Esther more than all the other women”. Esther is declared queen, but continues to keep her Jewish identity a secret.

Where Mordecai’s at

It should be noted that while all of this is transpiring, Mordecai is still very much in the picture. He stays in touch with Esther, first taking daily walks by the harem and then, posting himself by at the palace gate. It is in this position that Mordecai happens to overhear two of the king’s guards, Bigthan and Teresh, plotting to murder the king. Mordecai reports the plot to Esther who, in turn, reports it to the king in Mordecai’s name. The pair of guards are served up an unfortunate death on a pair of stakes, and the whole matter, including Mordecai’s involvement, is recorded in the king’s “book of annals”.

Haman enters the story

It so happens that in the court of Ahasueros, there dwells a man named Haman. For some reason, the king decides to favor Haman with a significant promotion, “seat(ing) him higher than any of his fellow officials”, with the accompanying requirement that all of the courtiers in the palace should bow down before him. Mordecai refuses to bow down, explaining to Haman’s cronies that he would not do so because he was a Jew.

Haman, egomaniac that he is, is utterly enraged at Mordecai’s refusal to bow down. When he learns of Mordecai’s religious affiliation, in a clear case of the punishment not fitting the crime, he devises a plot to destroy all of Mordecai’s people, that is, all of the Jews of Persia.

Haman suggests to King Ahasueros that there is a “certain people” residing in his realm that do not obey the king’s laws and should be destroyed. He offers to pay 10000 talents of silv into the king’s coffers if Ahasueros will give the nod to Haman’s request. Without further ado, the buffoon of a king seals the deal with his signet ring, declining Haman’s offer of payment.

And so the stage is set. Haman has been given a licence to kill all of the Jews of Persia. Orders are issued to every province in the realm “to destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women, on a single day on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month-that is, the month of Adar – and to plunder their possessions.”

As word of the decree spreads through the land, the Jews are understandably devastated. Clothes are replaced with sackloth and ashes, and fasting, weeping and wailing is the order of the day.

Mordecai, too, tears his clothes and dons sackcloth and ashes, but rather than weeping and wailing, he takes action. He passes a message to Queen Esther, through one of her eunuch messengers, advising her of the calamitous decree. He asks that she go to King Ahasueros and plead with him for the lives of the Jewish people.

Esther is initially reluctant. An unsolicited appearance before the king means certain death, unless Ahasueros chooses to raise his golden sceptre (and we all know at this point how rashly Ahasueros makes his decisions!). Esther has not been summoned to the king’s chambers for the past month, and understandably, has reservations about taking the risk. However, after further persuasion from Mordecai, she agrees, asking Mordecai that he and all the Jews of Shushan fast on her behalf for three days and three nights. Esther and her maidens do the same, and on the third day, she prepares to appear before the king and plead for her people…telling herself all the while that “if I am to perish, I shall perish!”

The first feast

Fortunately, Esther’s fears prove unfounded. As she steps into the king’s chambers and Ahasueros lays eyes on her, he immediately raises his golden scepter, and Esther’s life is spared. In fact, in his usual excessive manner, Ahasueros declares that any wish of Esther’s would be granted, even were it a request for half the kingdom.

Esther replies modestly, simply inviting the king and Haman to a feast that she has prepared for them. The king agrees and he and Haman attend.

At the feast, the king once again asks Esther what she wishes for. In response, Esther invites the pair to yet another feast. And once again, the king agrees

Raised stakes

The story now takes a bit of a sidetrack, so those of you that are waiting with baited breath to learn about the fate of the Persian Jews will have to wait just a bit longer (possibly to part 5).

Our villain, Haman, is feeling pretty good about things. He alone has been included with the king in Esther’s invitation to the royal feasts. However, Mordecai soon puts a damper on his “happy and light-hearted” mood. On the morning after the first banquet, Haman strolls through the palace courtyard where he encounters Mordecai, who does not “rise or even stir on [Haman's] account.

Haman is enraged by Mordecai’s insolence. Back home, he calls upon friends and family to console him. They advise Haman to put up a stake, 50 cubits high, and get the king’s okay to impale Mordecai upon it. (I should point out that given the haphazard nature of the king’s decision making, this suggestion is, in the context, perfectly reasonable!) This dubious counsel makes Haman feel a whole lot better and he cheerfully proceeds to raise the stake.

A sleepless night…and the outcome

That night, Ahasueros tosses and turns in his bed, unable to sleep. Finally (I can only assume in the hopes that the boredom will make him drowsy), he calls upon a servant to read to him from the royal book of records. As fortune would have it, the servant happens to flip to the account of Mordecai saving the king’s life (see Part 1 for the details). When the king is reminded of this, he asks if Mordecai was ever rewarded for his heroism. His servant indicates not, and the king immediately sets out to remedy this.

Now as it turns out, Haman has just entered the court, excited to put his stake request before the king. But the king is just as excited to discuss potential rewards, so before Haman can utter a word about the prospective impalement, the king asks Haman for some advice.

Ahasueros asks Haman: “What should be done for a man whom the king desires to honor?”

Needless to say, Haman assumes that Ahasueros is referring to Haman, himself. Without further ado, Haman proposes that the man in question should be clothed in the king’s robes with a royal crown on his head. He should then be mounted on the king’s steed and paraded through the city streets by one of the king’s noble courtiers, who will proclaim to all that “this is what is done for the man whom the king desires to honor.”

The king thinks this idea is a winner. Haman presumably feels about a second of flushed pride but then, to his shock and horror, the king instructs him to go and collect the royal garb and horse, and do all that he has suggested to “Mordecai the Jew, who sits in the king’s gate”, omitting absolutely nothing of what Haman has proposed.

Haman has no choice. According to some versions of the story, Haman actually has to wash and dress Mordecai, then allow him to step upon his back in order to mount the horse. After leading Mordecai through the streets of Shushan, Haman hurries home, utterly humiliated. There, his wife Zeresh and his friends await him, but they now sing a very different tune. In a blatant act of foreshadowing, they warn Haman that if Mordecai is a Jew, Haman will not overcome him but instead, Mordecai will bring about Haman’s ruin.

The Second Banquet

Once again, King Ahasueros and Haman come to feast with Queen Esther. And again, the king asks Esther:” What is your wish…It shall be granted…even to half the kingdom”.

This time, Esther does not pull any punches. She replies to the king: “…if it pleases Your Majesty, let my life be granted me as my wish, and my people as my request. For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, massacred and exterminated.”

Naturally, the king is appalled. “Who dares to do this?!?” he exclaims.

Esther points dramatically at our villain. “The adversary and enemy,” she replies,“ is this evil Haman!”

Haman cringes in abject terror at Esther’s accusation, while Ahasueros storms out of the room in a fit of rage. In the king’s absence, Haman throws himself before Esther, begging for his life. Suddenly Ahasueros reappears and mistakes Haman’s prostate position before Esther as a misguided attempt to sexually assault the queen. As you can imagine, this is the final straw for the king!

Harbonah, one of the king’s eunuchs, happens to be in the room at this time. Seizing the moment, he mentions to the king that, as chance would have it, there is a stake standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high. Well, you can probably guess what happens next…

The king commands that Haman should be impaled on the stake – the very fate that Haman had intended for his nemesis, Mordecai. The king’s order is carried out immediately, and with the disposal of Haman, as the story goes, “the king’s fury abated.”

The solution: Another royal edict

With Haman permanently removed from the scene, Esther reveals to the king her relationship to Mordecai the Jew, which, of course, is a revelation of her religious identity. She then, once again, appeals to the king to revoke the decree ordering the annihilation of her people. Unfortunately, at this point, the king points out that once a royal edict is written, it cannot be revoked. However, the king suggests a solution: that Esther and Mordecai should write a new edict to neutralize the original. King Ahasueros promptly hands over his signet ring to Mordecai for royal sealing purposes, and leaves the pair to their drafting.

And so a new edict is drafted – this time by Mordecai. Paralleling the language of Haman’s edict, this one proclaims that “the king has permitted the Jews of every city to assemble and fight for their lives; if any people or province attacks them, they may destroy…its armed forces together with women and children, and plunder their possessions…on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar.” This decree is immediately issued in “urgent haste” by couriers riding royal steeds, who hurry out to deliver the new proclamation to all parts of the king’s realm.

As for Uncle Mordecai, after the drafting is done, he is adorned in “royal robes of blue and white,” with a gold crown on his head, having been appointed second in command to the king, himself. (I bite my tongue here, suppressing my feminist viewpoint and realizing that in ancient Persia, it would naturally be the uncle rather than the brave and intelligent niece (read female) who gets the signet ring and the governing powers!)

Now once word of the edict spreads, the Jews celebrate vigorously, as they well should. The Persians take note of the king’s endorsement of the new decree which has the effect of inducing “fear of [the Jews] to fall upon all the peoples.” Moreover, as governing officials throughout the realm get wind of Mordecai’s newfound power in the royal palace, they suddenly become quite deferential to the Jews.

When the big day (13th of Adar) arrives, the Jews are ready – confident and prepared to attack any that dare attack them. I must report that the Jews do engage in a fair amount of violence, killing thousands of “foes” throughout the realm. I can only assume that, as set out in Mordecai’s edict, this destruction is in response to an initial attack by said “enemies”. Included in the enemy count are, of course, Haman’s ten sons.

And on the 14th day of Adar, the Jews engage in a great celebration of feasting and general merriment, celebrating the fortunate outcome of events…most important of which is, of course, their survival.

To this day, Jews celebrate Purim on the 14th day of Adar, engaging in raucous merriment and other fun stuff as we remember miraculous outcome of events in Shushan, and just generally, have a really great time!

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March 4th, 2011

Purim Craft – Noisy Hamantashies

If you’ve read Problems in Purimville, you already know how noisy hamantashies can actually be (with the help of their graggers).  Here is a Purim craft that combines costumes, hamantashen shapes and a bit of sound effect to create a hamantashy gragger of your own.


Small paper plates

Glue gun or stapler (in either case, use the closest grownup to help you with this)

Small dried beans (like lentils)or rice

Hole puncher (optional)

All sorts of decorations such as:  googly eyes, stick on gems, felt, pipecleaners, fabric scraps, wool (for hair)…just use your imagination


Cut your paper plates into two matching triangles with rounded corners. 

Have your grownup glue or staple two of the edges together then put your beans or rice inside.  Staple or glue the third side together.  Give a gentle shake to make sure nothing is going to fall out!

Carefully punch or cut holes on the sides and the bottom of the triangle and insert pipe cleaners for arms and legs.  hamantashies

Now decorate with abandon.  Use the googly eyes, felt or crayons to create a mouth in the middle.  Use your felt, fabric scraps and glue to create clothes or a costume of some sort.  Make your hamantashy a crown, a mask or whatever suits your fancy.

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February 1st, 2011

The Best Hamantashen Recipe….EVER!


Purimville Hamantashen

(For an explanation of what Purimville and Hamantashies are, please visit the “Books” page!)

As any Hamantashy, will tell you, the Purimville hamantashen are simply the best that you will find anywhere.  You can follow the Purimville recipe at home with a grownup helper.




1 cup (2 sticks) of butter at room temperature so it’s easy to mix

2 eggs

1¼  cup sugar

3½  cups of flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla.

¼ tsp salt

A bit of milk


Chocolate chips

Your favourite flavour jam

Hersheys kisses (Hamantashies love the caramel filled ones the best)

A grownup helper



1.  Cream the butter and sugar in a food processor, then add the eggs and vanilla and continue to process until smooth.

2.  Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl (the dry ingredients).

3.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and process to combine.  Then empty the dough into a large bowl and continue to mix with your hands until you can form it into a ball.

4.  Divide your ball of dough in two.  Wrap each piece in parchment paper.  Then put the wrapped dough into a large freezer bag, seal it, and put it in the fridge for at least one hour.

5.  When your dough is nicely chilled, turn on the oven to 375 degrees.  Take one piece of dough out of the fridge and divide it in two.  On some parchment paper, roll out the first piece of dough until it is nice and thin.  (You can use the parchment paper wrapper here – Hamantashies do, because they don’t like to waste.)  If the dough sticks to your rolling pin, you can sprinkle it with a little flour – but not too much or it will get dry.

6.  Cut the rolled dough into circles – about 2 ½ inches in diameter (that means across the centre of the circle).  Put a few chocolate chips (about 5-6), a tsp of jam or a Hershey’s kiss in the centre.

7.  Dip your finger in milk and paint around the edge of your dough circle.  Then fold three sides in to make a triangle shape, gently pinching to seal it shut.  Make sure you leave some space in the middle so you can still see the filling. If you like a perfect triangle, you can ask your grownup helper to carefully trim each side with a sharp knife – but that is absolutely optional.

8.  Place your hamantashen on a greased cookie sheet, and bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees.

9.  When the hamantashen are ready, let them cool, then share them with your friends and ENJOY!

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January 31st, 2011