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Purim in Jerusalem is one of those unforgettable experiences in life; the whole city, young and old, are in fancy dress, almost rolling in the streets, celebrating. A little closer to home, one can find much the same in Golders Green, but it’s fair to say that we also know how to celebrate Purim at Westminster Synagogue.

What’s the history?
The Purim celebration is based upon the biblical Book of Esther, which recounts the story of Queen Esther and how she saved the Jewish people from annihilation in Persia.

The Persian empire of the 4th century BCE extended over 127 lands, and all the Jews were its subjects. When King Ahasuerus had his wife, Queen Vashti, executed for failing to follow his orders, he orchestrated a beauty pageant to find a new queen. A Jewish girl, Esther, found favour in his eyes and became the new queen—though she refused to divulge the identity of her nationality.

Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic Haman was appointed prime minister of the empire. Mordechai, the leader of the Jews (and Esther’s cousin), defied the king’s orders and refused to bow to Haman. Haman was incensed, and convinced the king to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar—a date chosen by a lottery Haman made (Important fact: the word ‘Purim’ means “lots”!) Esther invited both the King and Haman to a feast where she revealed to the king her Jewish identity. Haman was hanged, Mordechai was appointed prime minister in his stead, and a new decree was issued—granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies. At that point, the celebrations begin!

Purim is marked in several ways: The reading of the Megillah (book of Esther), the Scroll which recounts the story of the Purim miracle; dressing up; having a festive Purim feast; and enjoying a Purim spiel, a play with a creative retelling of the Purim story.

How do we celebrate at Westminster Synagogue?
Purim this year falls on Wednesday 16th March and Thursday 17th March. It is always a big event at Westminster Synagogue, and we have a long-held tradition for terrific Purim spiels. Among our themes have been Mamma Mia, the Medal-gillah, Grease, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Fiddler on the Roof and this year the Megillah inspired by the Beatles. We will celebrate on Wednesday 16th March with the Megillah being read at 6:00pm before the Spiel, which will be followed by a sumptuous buffet. We will also have activities for our children from 4.30pm led by Laura and our Or Shabbat teachers.

As mentioned, fancy dress is obligatory.

Fri, 2 December 2022 8 Kislev 5783