Sunday, March 23, 2008

Peorians celebrate Purim, commemorating Jewish salvation in ancient Persia

By Brian Feldt

Of The Journal Star

Peoria - It was not the typical scene for a sacred Jewish holiday.
Little girls wore princess costumes, boys wore king outfits and the rabbi was fully cloaked in a New York Yankees baseball uniform.

Together, resembling a Halloween party, they celebrated one of the oldest traditions in the Jewish faith.

More than 100 Jews gathered at Barrack's Cater Inn on Friday afternoon to celebrate Purim, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the salvation of Jewish people from destruction in ancient Persia through the efforts of Queen Esther.

The costumes have become a custom of the holiday within the past 500 years, and are supposed to resemble biblical figures such as Queen Esther or King David.

And although Rabbi Eli Langsam chose to sport a Joe DiMaggio or Babe Ruth personality, the purpose of the celebration was far from lost.

"This is a great holiday for the Jewish people," he said. "It's all about thanking God for the great miracle that God did in saving the Jewish people from the evil (Persian Emperor) Haman."

According to the Biblical Book of Esther, Haman plotted to eliminate the Jewish race and cast lots to determine the day upon which to kill them. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, which is the day following the Jews' victory over Haman and his army.

Four phases make up the holiday's celebration. Among them are recitation of the Book of Esther, giving gifts of food and drink, giving charity to the poor and a celebratory feast.

Every year, the Chabad of Peoria hosts the celebration, and every year the party takes on a new theme.

This year's theme was "Purim in New York." Those in attendance received kosher New York-style deli meals along with traditional Purim foods such as hamantaschen - triangular pastries with a filling such as prunes, apricots or poppy seeds.

"It's a holiday like every other holiday, and actually is one of the bigger ones," Langsam said. "We have a great time. The kids have a great time and we have great food. We celebrate the great holiday that God saved the Jews."

Recently, though, the holiday has become more of a celebration for kids to experience their heritage.

"It's a wonderful holiday but it is more of a holiday for the kids," said Dolores Griminger of Peoria. "The kids always have a good time dressing up because all the little girls want to be Queen Esther. It's a lot of fun."

Brian Feldt can be reached at 686-3194 or

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