By Elisabeth TurnerStaff Writer
This past Sunday at 1:30 p.m., students gathered in one of the Student Center Plaza rooms to listen to a reading of the Megillah, or Scroll of Esther, followed by a ‘feast’ of lasagna, pasta, blintzes – a sweet, cheese or potato filled hot rolls – and hamantashens, a type of special cookie.
On Monday night beginning at 5:30 p.m., more students came out to the back of the Student Center Dining Room to participate in free carnival games like ring-on-the-bottle sack tosses, a photo booth and character cut-outs that students could stand behind to have their head stick out over the top.
The events – hosted by Hofstra Hillel and its student e-board – were put on to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim – or Feast of Lots – that commemorates the deeds that Queen Esther of Persia took to secure the Jewish people’s victory on the 13th day of the Jewish month of Adar, in the fifth century B.C.E.
Although she became Queen of Persia, Esther was actually a Jew. The former queen of Persia, Vashti, had refused to show herself at a palace feast to entertain a number of King Achashverosh’s men, and was thus dethroned. The King then launched a search for a suitable queen, and Esther was chosen.
After some time at the palace, it became evident to Esther’s uncle Mordechai that Haman – chief advisor of King Achashverosh – was concocting a plan to annihilate the Jews of Persia. Esther then realized that the preservation of her people may have very well rested in her hands; although it was against protocol to go before the King unsummoned, Esther acknowledged that she had an opportunity – although seemingly dangerous – to intercept Haman’s plans, and so she did.
“The story’s a reminder that God is always present. There are two kinds of miracle s- there’s the dazzling obvious miracle like the splitting of the red sea … and there are hidden miracles, Rabbinic Educator here at Hofstra Hillel, Meir Mitelman said.
Although less dramatic than the events that played out so many centuries ago, the Megillah reading by Moshe Rube – a student at Yeshiva university – on Sunday exemplified the fervor that the Jewish people had for their heritage after their victory.
Each student that came to the reading received a 32-page ‘copy’ of the Megillah with the story in Hebrew on the right side of the page, and the English translation on the left. Rube read through the story in about 30 minutes, his words flowing out quickly, but passionately.
“The person essentially has to memorize the scroll,” Mitelman said. “[Rube] obviously [knew] it very well.”
Part of the tradition of the Megillah reading is shaking a noisemaker – a gragger – every time Haman’s name is mentioned. For the reading on Sunday, students were given a circular, tin-like gragger with a cartoon of Queen Esther and King Achashverosh on the front, headed by a jubilant ‘Happy Purim!’
At the ‘carnival’ on Monday night, students were privileged to popcorn and an unicyclist, in addition to the free games.
“We love celebrating Purim at Hofstra because it enables us to share the joy of this holiday with others …,” Elementary Education and Jewish Studies sophomore Jen Gold said in a Facebook message.
Another important part of the holiday is dressing up in costumes. To those who celebrate Purim, wearing a disguise is often though of as symbolic for the way in which God intervened on the Jews’ behalf through Esther – Esther entered the kingdom as a hidden Jew who did not understand for what purpose she had come. But in the end, her placement turned out to be for a greater good than she could have ever imagined.
“I think it ‘s a lesson – either you can be Vashti who sort of leaves … while Queen Esther takes command, takes charge. So it teaches you the kind of person you should be,” sophomore History major Micah Stryker said.
“It was an act of great courage – and she [was] essentially putting her life on the line to save the Jewish people. And they are saved because of what she did,” Meir commented.
Giving, or charity – tzedakah – is another component of Purim; although such giving is commanded at all times of the year, is it considered especially important to do so during the Purim season. “On Purim, we emphasize the important of Jewish unity by sending gifts of food via a messenger to friends – at least two kinds of ready-to-eat foods to at least one friend on Purim day,” a Hofstra Hillel Purim flyer – written by Mitelman – states.
For Jewish and non-Jewish students alike, it was – according to Rabbi Dave Siegel, Executive Director of Hostra Hillel said – “a great way for the community to come together."