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Jewish Holidays 101: What is Purim?

Editorial

2/2/2022 | Emily Jaeger

If you’ve never heard of Purim before, that’s ok! A Jewish holiday that combines the costumes and treats of Halloween, masks of Carnival, and a great story about standing up to bullies: Purim is for everyone. Support Jewish families and introduce diverse cultures in the classroom with some fun and easy ways to celebrate Purim. 

Purim is a day-long celebration that occurs every year around March. Many Jews celebrate Purim by reading the farcical Book of Esther (Megillat Esther in Hebrew) in a synagogue, dressing up in costumes, giving to charity, and sharing gift baskets full of cookies, Hamentashen, with friends.

What is the Story of Purim?

The Purim story takes place in the city of Shushan in ancient Persia. According to the Book of Esther, when the Persian King Ahashverosh banishes his wife Vashti from the palace, unbeknownst to him, he remarries a Jewish woman, Esther. The King’s villainous advisor Hamen convinces the King to kill all the Jews in the city because of their different religious practices. However, Esther stands up to this bully, revealing to the King that she is Jewish despite the risk to her own life. She begs the King for mercy for the Jewish people. Because of her bravery, everyone’s fate is switched: Hamen is killed and the Jews are saved. 

Of course, not every part of the Purim story is appropriate for young children. However the themes of the holiday are crucial for the classroom and early childhood development: bravery, standing up for what is right, anti-bullying, and embracing differences. Not to mention that celebrating Purim is just plain fun. 

Storytime is a great way to introduce the story and themes of the holiday. The best kid-friendly Purim story does involve some creative summarization. You can also check out this booklist for some Purim books appropriate for early childcare. PJ Library, an amazing resource for Jewish kid-lit and activities, recommends focusing on the values of the holiday and starting the conversation by asking kids the following questions: Who is a hero? What does it mean to be brave? When was a time that you felt brave?

Multi-Sensory Purim Activities for Kids

Playing dress-up is a perfect follow-up activity to Purim storytime. For classrooms that already have their own stash of costumes, this activity requires little preparation and is fodder for great classroom bulletins. Children can dress up as characters from the Purim story or whomever they want. 

Take pictures of each child in costume, ask them who they are, and what they love about that character. Post pictures and quotes. For folks without classroom costumes (or to take it to the next level) have learners dress up as their favorite real or imaginary superhero--someone as brave as Esther. 

Make graggers, noise-makers or rattles traditionally used to drown out the villainous Hamen’s name when reading the book of Esther. A classic Purim art project is a gragger made out of a decorated paper plate, filled with dried beans, and stapled into a half moon. However, feel free to get creative. A sensory rattle or calm down bottle is a great variation on the theme that also promotes recycling. 

Decorate Purim masks. Purim is all about reversals and hidden identities. Like Venice’s Carnival, masks are a traditional part of the holiday and a great art project for children. Either print masks to bedazzle and be-sticker, or let kids go wild feathering up some plastic party masks. Once everything is dry, have a classroom masquerade or parade for the fun of it (and the pictures). 

Bake Hamentashen cookies. There are few activities that are equally as hilarious and agitating as baking with a 3’s and 4’s class. Hamentashen are a traditional Purim treat based on the shape of either Hamen’s ears or Hamen’s hat, depending on whose Bubbie you ask. These sugar cookie triangles filled with chocolate or jam are tasty and easy to make with this Hamentashen recipe

Emily Jaeger is a professional writer with a background in education (she's taught every age group from preschool to retirement). Her writing has been featured on Parents Magazine, Kveller, Motherfigure and more. You can connect with Emily via her website emilyjaeger.com, or on instagram @soulinparaphrase. 

Photo by Anton Uniqueton from Pexels

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