Purim Resources for Families
Rabbi Cara Weinstein Rosenthal, Family Engagement Specialist, USCJ
The festival of Purim, celebrated on the fourteenth of the Hebrew month of Adar, celebrates the Jewish people’s triumph over persecution by an evil vizier, Haman, who wanted to kill the entire Jewish population of the ancient Persian empire. The brave Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai foiled Haman’s plot, and we celebrate the Jews’ escape from danger with a day of feasting, merriment, hospitality, and good deeds.
Celebrating Purim 101
The four mitzvot (commandments) of Purim are:
- Listening to the Megillah –The Megillah (Scroll) of Esther tells the Purim story. It’s customary to come to the Megillah reading in costume and to drown out Haman’s name with groggers (noisemakers) every time it’s read.
- Mishloach Manot – It’s a mitzvah to send gifts of food to friends and family on Purim.
- Matanot L’Evyonim – It’s also a mitzvah to share in our joy by giving tzedakah (charity) to the needy on Purim.
- The Purim Se’udah (Feast) – In case you haven’t celebrated enough…it’s also traditional to share a festive meal with friends and family on Purim day.
Here are a few Purim ideas and resources for young families and for communities looking to engage young families in a Purim celebration that goes a step beyond costumes and hamantaschen (although those are great, too!):
- Build connections between families through a mishloach manot "buddy" program. Assign each family two other families to bring mishloach manot to. Connect this activity to a workshop where families learn how to make their own crafty mishloach manot containers.
- Speaking of containers - try this crafty idea from Amy Meltzer's Homeshuling blog. She shows how to make adorable mishloach manot containers out of cereal boxes.
- Get into the Shushan spirit by spicing things up with some authentic Persian food. Invite PJ parents to a Persian cooking workshop (or just a tasting). You can find some recipes and how-to videos at the Kosher Persian Food Blog.
- And if you want to take the ancient Persia theme one step further…Women’s League for Conservative Judaism has developed a unique program for women called “Vashti’s Banquet” that would make a great Mom’s Night Out event. Read about it here.
- Looking to reach people outside of your congregation? Try a public-space program at an arts and crafts store - set up a table at Michaels and have a mask-making party!
- Not much time to bake? Good thing Bible Belt Balabusta offers this slacker hamantaschen recipe. Anyone could do it.
- Many families know about Esther, Haman, and Mordechai - but what do we teach kids and families about Vashti (if anything)? Maxine Handelman, USCJ's Consultant for Early Childhood Education, offers this thought-provoking article about what we can learn from Vashti, and how we can share those lessons with our kids.
- One of the themes of the megillah is "v'nahafoch hu," "it was reversed" - the decree against the Jews turned into salvation, and mourning turned into rejoicing. Teach kids about this theme by doing things upside down and backwards - reverse the order of the school day, eat dessert first, invite everybody to wear their clothes backwards.
- Looking for some original ideas for Purim costumes? Find inspiration in some of your favorite PJ Library books. Check out the PJ Library blog and the Kar-Ben Books blog for some great book-based costume ideas that you don’t need to be a crafting maven to make.
- Speaking of costumes…add a new twist to Purim preparations by holding a costume-making workshop for young families. Gather lots of materials – paper grocery bags, foil, felt, cotton balls, feathers, pipe cleaners – and encourage participants to let their imaginations run wild. Add pizza and cookies for an evening event that will let parents and kids have fun together and check an item off of their to-do lists.
- Reading about the ancient city of Shushan is great, but building it is even better! Congregation Knesset Israel in Pittsfield, MA invited families to learn about the Purim story in a very hands-on way – by helping to build a model of Shushan out of Legos. Read more about Building Blocks Workshops.
- What do we do about the parts of the Purim story that might be frightening to children? In this article, I offer some thoughts on finding a sensitive way to teach troubling narratives to our children, and on the need to give our kids a Jewish education that grows more sophisticated as they do.
Happy Celebrating - Chag Sameach!