Jewish community celebrates its salvation with Purim feast

Pocono Life Writer

Chabad Lubavitch of the Poconos invites everyone to experience one of the most joyous events in Jewish history. Purim marks the time when Queen Esther intervened to foil a plot to wipe out every Jewish man, woman and child living in Persia.

Ever since that miraculous time in 365 B.C., Jews have observed Purim, the 14th day of Adar on the Hebrew calendar, by reading the biblical Book of Esther, having a festive meal, giving gifts to the poor and food to friends.

"It's a festive day, a happy day," said Rabbi Mendel Bendet, who heads the local Chabad Lubavitch.

Chabad Lubavitch is a 250-year-old branch of Hasidic Judaism that began in Poland and is now based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Rabbi Bendet and his wife Shterni, directors of Chabad Lubavitch of the Poconos, want to promote Jewish identity and awareness through events such as the Purim celebration.

This year Purim falls on Thursday. That evening Chabad Lubavitch will host a grand Purim ball at Howard Johnson's in Bartonsville.

The evening will begin with a reading of the Megillah, the story of Purim. Rabbi Bendet will read the story in the original Hebrew from a parchment scroll created by a certified scribe. People who don't understand Hebrew can follow along in a Purim booklet written in both Hebrew and English. A multi-media slide show will illustrate the story as it is being read.

Following the reading, guests will enjoy a kosher Chinese buffet. The meal will include traditional hamantashen, a triangular pastry with a variety of fillings — prune, poppy, apricot, strawberry, raspberry and chocolate.

Live music will add to the festivities and Modi, well-known on the comedy circuit, is scheduled to perform. A member of the New York Friars Club, Modi appears regularly at New York City's Caroline's on Broadway, Comedy Cellar, Comic Strip Live, Gotham Comedy Club and Stand-up New York. He performed at The John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as well as television, radio and feature films.

"Everyone who is willing to celebrate with us is invited," Rabbi Bendet said.

For people who have not heard the story, Bendet said the Book of Esther recounts the events leading to a miraculous preservation of the Jewish people living in Shushan, Persia.

King Ahasuerus hosted a feast at his palace, and after several days of revelry, became intoxicated. He then commanded that his wife, the beautiful Queen Vashti, to appear before his guests wearing only her crown.

"She refused, he became enraged and had her executed," Bendet said.

The king needed a new queen and chose Esther, a Jew. Esther's cousin Mordecai, leader of the Jewish people, advised Esther to keep her religion a secret. Later Mordecai overheard a plot to kill the king and told Esther, who informed the king, saving his life.

After this, Haman, one of the King Ahasuerus' officials, persuaded the king to issue a decree that everyone should bow to Haman. When Mordecai refused to bow, Haman devised a plan to annihilate Mordecai and all the Jews.

When Mordecai found out about Haman's plans, he persuaded Esther to approach the king and reveal her identity as a Jew. In the end, Ahasuerus issued an edict allowing the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies on the 13th day of Adar. On the 14th day the Jews made a day of feasting to celebrate the miracle of their redemption.

"It really didn't make sense that the Jewish people would get out of this crunch," Bendet said.

Most holy days the Jews celebrate are solemn, but Purim is different. "You owe it to yourself to attend a Purim festival," Bendet said.