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Jewish Journal

The whole megillah: Ten reasons to love Purim

by Jane Ulman

March 1, 2007 | 7:00 pm

Joe Hample, reading the megillah in Russian. Photo by Tracy Moore

Joe Hample, reading the megillah in Russian. Photo by Tracy Moore

So what is Purim about? This short guide explains the various holiday traditions and celebrations, as well as a few suggestions of unique and fun ways to partake in the festivities.

1. Megillah Reading

One of four mitzvot, or commandments, on Purim is listening to the reading of Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther, at night and in the morning. In the tale, Esther, the new Persian queen, saves the Jews from destruction by the evil Haman. When reading the name of Haman and his family -- symbols of all the Jews' enemies -- it's customary to drown it out by making noise, often using groggers, or noisemakers. It is also customary to repeat the happy ending of the story: La'Yehudim hayta ora v'simcha (And the Jews had joy and light).

In conjunction with the community-building initiative Be'chol Lashon (In Every Tongue), Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim hosts its annual multilingual megillah reading, featuring Afrikaans, Klingon and Luganda, among others on March 3. In addition, Ugandan Rabbi Gershom Sizomu and his family will attend as special guests. A noisemaker and mask-making workshop, a pizza dinner (reservations needed) and Havdalah precede the 7:45 p.m. Megillah reading, followed by skits and Israeli dancing.

Beth Chayim Chadashim, 6000 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023, www.bcc-la.org.

Making the joy of Purim accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing, Temple Beth Am is introducing a special PowerPoint presentation of Megillat Esther at their 8:15 p.m. sanctuary service on March 3. At the service, geared for children in the lower elementary grades to adults, sixth- and seventh-graders from Pressman Academy will read the megillah, which will be projected in Hebrew and English, along with graphics, onto a large screen. The program was developed by the Orthodox Union's National Jewish Council for Disabilities and is also suitable for the elderly and individuals with learning disabilities.

Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd. (310) 652-7353, www.tbala.org.

For more information about the Orthodox Union program, call Batya Jacob at (212) 613-8127 or visit www.ou.org.

2. Costumes

After the Jews were saved in the eleventh hour from Haman's evil decree (implemented by King Ahasuerus), the megillah says their world was turned from sorrow to joy: "As the days wherein the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day." And so Purim is topsy-turvy day, where people -- kids especially -- dress up in costume. Many wear costumes of characters in the Book of Esther, but others have made it into a generic "Jewish Halloween."

Adele's of Hollywood offers a 10 percent discount on all Purim costumes. Choose from hundreds of children's outfits from newborn to size 14, from $25 to $65. Adult costumes are also available, for sale or rent, from $65 to $150. Open Purim day by appointment.

Adele's of Hollywood, 5034 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 663-2231. www.adelescostumes.com.

Ursula's Costumes has 2,000 costumes for purchase or rent. Adult costumes, mostly one of a kind, rent for $50 to $300 (the latter for an elaborate Venetian ball gown). They retail for $30 to $300. Children's costumes sell for $20 to $60.

Ursula's Costumes, 2516 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 582-8230. www.ursulascostumes.com.

Etoile offers a plethora of Purim guises, along with hats, shoes, makeup and other accessories. Rent an adult costume from $21 to $400 or more, or purchase one for about $45. Children's costumes sell for $20 to $60.

Etoile, 18849 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 343-3701. www.etoilela.com.

3. Shpiels

One of the ways to celebrate the joys of Purim is the shpiel, a comedic performance planned for months in advance that ranges from satires of the original Purim story to skits parodying Jewish or communal life. Some synagogue shpiels use broad humor while others are roasts of the rabbi, president and congregational politics.

At Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, Cantor Marcelo Gindlin adds an Argentine twist to "The Megillah According to Broadway" by New York shpiel-meister and accountant Norman Roth. Featuring synagogue members and fifth- and sixth-grade religious school students, the musical will be presented March 2, following 7 p.m. Shabbat services and a megillah reading.

Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, 24855 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (310) 456-2178. www.mjcs.org.

Boogie with Congregation Kol Ami at "Uptown Shushan, Esther in the Big City," a full-scale, original Motown Purim production on March 3. The evening begins at 7 p.m. with Havdalah and a megillah reading in Hebrew, English and Spanish, followed by the musical with its cast of 25. Afterward, dance to the cool spinning of DJ Groovy David.

Congregation Kol Ami, 1200 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 606-0996. www.kol-ami.org.

Come to "Avenue P" at Temple Isaiah on March 3, where Mr. Rogers narrates the Purim story. Esther, Mordecai and the usual cast of Purim characters appear as puppets, along with three sunglasses-wearing, Haman-conspiring camels. Religious school students, with handmade sock puppets, serve as a Greek chorus. "Avenue P," free and fun for the whole family, follows the 7 p.m. megillah reading.

Temple Isaiah, 10345 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310)277-2772. www.templeisaiah.com.

4. Carnivals

Purim is made for children. And so are Purim carnivals, which feature raffles, games, costume contests, food and fun. But carnivals are not just for kids. Adults can enjoy a little bit of cotton candy, too. While carnivals in the city often are held before the holiday, Purim falls on a weekend this year, and so do many carnivals.

Learn about organizations that tackle poverty, AIDS, illiteracy and other social ills at IKAR's second-annual Justice Carnival at the Westside JCC and have fun at the same time. The Justice Carnival for Adults on March 3, 8:30 p.m., also features blackjack, Scotch tasting and dancing. For families, the Justice Carnival offers a moon bounce, face painting and spin art, as well as games and food on March 4, 1:15 p.m. $5-$25 (members), $10-$35 (non-members).

IKAR, Westside Jewish Community Center, 5870 West Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870. www.ikar-la.org.

It's a CHawaian Purim celebration at Chabad of Conejo on March 4, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Masquerade in tznius (modest) attire at this Purim luau featuring a barbeque lunch and two exotic drink bars. Hear the megillah read and watch a tropical bird show, a Polynesian fire and knife demonstration and a poi ball dancer.

Lei-making and hair-braiding are also offered. $10 (adults), $5 (children under 12). Advance reservations requested.

Chabad of Conejo, 30345 Canwood St., Agoura Hills. (818) 991-0991. www.chabadofconejo.com.

No child walks away empty-handed from any game booth at Kahal Joseph Congregation's annual Purim Carnival, which takes place in the synagogue's social hall on March 4, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. In addition to the booths, run by synagogue youth, the carnival features the popular arcade game Dance Dance Revolution, a Moon Bounce and a three-car mini train for the younger revelers. Cotton candy, snow cones, hot dogs and hamburgers will be sold from antique-style carts. Admission is free; $1 (for each ticket). Costumes encouraged.

Kahal Joseph Congregation, 10505 W.Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 474-0559. www.kahaljoseph.org.

5. Singles/Young Adults parties

Masquerades, alcohol, comedy -- what could be more conducive to finding your own queen (or king)? Beginning Thursday night, singles parties abound around town, where revelers are intent on fulfilling the Purim mitzvah of drinking until you don't know the difference between the evil Haman and the Jewish Mordechai (a mitzvah really reserved for the Purim meal).

More than 400 25- to 45-year-olds are expected at the Chai Center's annual Purim party, emceed by Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz (Schwartzie). This year's bash will be held at The Joint on March 4, 2 -5 p.m. The party features free hamantashen, a no-host bar, sandwich wraps for purchase, live music and stand-up comics from The Laugh Factory. $13 (advance online purchase), $18 (at the door).

The Joint, 8771 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For information or reservations, call (310) 391-7995 or visit www.chaicenter.org.

A new party rises. Young professionals from three shuls -- Young Israel of Century City Young Adults, B'nai David-Judea Chaverim and Beth Jacob Young Couples -- are combining forces for an epic Purim celebration on March 3, 9:45 p.m. The party, held at B'nai David-Judea, features foods from Israel, Mexico, America and Italy, with accompanying liquors, as well as music and a costume competition. $12 (advance purchase), $15 (at the door).

B'nai David-Judea Congregation, 8906 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. chaverim@bnaidavid.com.

Get ramped up for Purimpalooza IV, JConnect's legendary Purim extravaganza for the 21-and-older crowd. Up to 500 revelers are expected at Fu's Palace on March 4, 4 p.m. Enjoy a late but halachically correct megillah reading at 4:30 p.m. sharp as well as music by Chutzpah and Moshav, a costume contest and carnival games. $12 (advance online purchase), $15 (at the door, with costume), $18 (at the door).

Fu's Palace, 8751 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.JConnectLA.com.

6. Seudahs

The Purim meal (seudah) is customarily held in the afternoon, featuring lots of wine and other alcohol and often words of Torah explaining modern-day applications of the megillah and the holiday. Many people have private seudahs, but some synagogues and communities have begun to offer communal seudahs.

Chabad of Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura and Herzog Wine Cellars invite all to a Purim Feast at Tierra Sur Restaurant on March 4, 1:30 p.m. Created by chef Todd Aarons, the feast features burgers and New York-style hot dogs, achiote-marinated Hawaiian ono fish tacos and poblano pepper and bean chili, along with various salads and accoutrements. In addition, Jewish stand-up comic Robert Cate entertains. Reservations required. $25 (adult), $18 (child) advanced payment, gratuity and tax included; $29 (at the door). The Chabad centers are also hosting a free Purim program at 12:30 p.m., which includes a children's show, live music, a wine tasting and winery tour.

Tierra Sur Restaurant (inside Herzog Wine Cellars), 3201 Camino Del Sol, Oxnard. For reservations or more information, contact Chabad of Camarillo, (805) 383-7882; Chabad of Oxnard, (805) 382-4770; or Chabad of Ventura, (805) 658-7441.

In addition to its regular kosher French cuisine, A Cow Jumped Over the Moon prepares a Purim feast available through March 4. For lunch, enjoy a Lyonnaise salad with poached egg and grilled tuna salami and, for dessert, a three-cornered hamantashen crepe filled with jelly. For dinner, add a main course of halibut with wasabi cream and hazelnut crust. $25 (lunch), $40 (dinner), gratuity and tax not included.

A Cow Jumped Over the Moon, 421 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 274-4269. www.acowjumpedoverthemoon.com.

Chabad invites graduate students, alumni, young professionals and families from USC, UCLA and CSUN to a festive Purim feast on March 4, 5 p.m., preceded by a 4:30 p.m. megillah reading. Held at the Bais Chana High School, the banquet features authentic Persian cuisine, catered by Sharon's. There's also free babysitting, a masquerade, door prizes and music. With advance reservations, the cost is $36 (per person), $54 (per couple). At the door, add $5 per person.

Bais Chana High School, 9041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 748.5884 or visit www.chabadusc.com.

7. Mishloach Manot

These gift baskets -- also called shalach manot -- technically only need to contain two food items (one prepared) to be given to two people, in order to bring people in the community closer together and fulfill the third Purim mitzvah. But over the years, the gift baskets have blossomed into gourmet, specialized food and theme baskets. Many parents have their costumed children deliver the baskets around the neighborhood (where they might receive a dollar or two for their troubles), although many forego the whole shpiel and give money to synagogues or schools, who prepare and deliver baskets themselves.

Munchies, with more than 200 different candies and 75 different gourmet chocolates, offers both ready-made and custom all-kosher gift baskets ranging in price from $10 to $400. In addition to candies, the wooden chest, ceramic or woven baskets feature nuts, dried fruits and wine. Munchies: A Sweet Emporium, 8859 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 777-0221. www.lamunchies.com.

A Cow Jumped Over the Moon, Beverly Hills' new kosher French cafe and épicure, offers ready-made and custom Purim baskets from $30 to $500. Encased in authentic wine crates, the baskets feature gourmet kosher wine and beer, handmade milk and dark chocolates from Normandy, hamantaschen and specialty candies and snacks.

A Cow Jumped Over the Moon, 421 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 274-4269. www.acowjumpedoverthemoon.com.

Barbie dresses up as Queen Esther in these custom-made, one-of-a-kind Purim baskets created by Michelle Vazzano of Flashy Baskets by Michelle. In addition to Barbie, the hat-box baskets feature noisemakers, a costume eye mask, sweet jellies, candies and chocolates. Baskets are $75 each. Purim day delivery is available in the Los Angeles area.

Flashy Baskets by Michelle, (310) 476-8390. www.flashybasketsbymichelle.com.

8. Hamantaschen

Every basket, no matter what the theme, must contain hamantaschen, or Haman's hats. The triangular enfolded cookie at its most traditional is filled with mohn (poppy seeds) or prune jelly, even apricot or cherry jelly. Creative cooks often fill it with everything from chocolate chips to peanut butter or marshmallows. Supermarkets and bakeries offer all flavors, but of course, the best ones are made with the children at home.

Continental Bakery's hamantaschen, in apricot, chocolate, poppy seed, prune and raspberry, have been shipped as far way as Japan. The small pastries sell for $8.15 per pound, and large hamantaschen for $1.50 each. Mini sugar-free versions are available in apricot and raspberry. Call ahead for large orders.

Continental Bakery, 12419 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 762-5005.

Schwartz Bakery offers large and small hamantaschen in apricot, chocolate, prune, poppy seed and raspberry. Small ones sell for $8.25 per pound, and large cookies sell for $1.50 each. In addition, sugar-free minis are available in apricot and raspberry.

Schwartz Bakery, 8616 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 854-0592; 431 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 653-1683; 7113 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 931-3563.

Eilat Bakery stocks mini and large hamantaschen in apricot, cherry, poppy seed and prune. Small ones sell for $7.75 per pound and large for $1.75 each.

Eilat Bakery 354 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 933-5000; 9233 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 205-8700; 12522 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village, (818) 766-2726.

9. Matanot La'evyonim

The fourth Purim mitzvah is to give alms to the poor. One should give to at least two people, as it is said in the megillah: "That they should make them the day of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another and gifts to the poor." Some synagogues collect three half-dollar coins or their equivalent before prayers to symbolize the half-shekel that every Jew used to give as dues to the Temple in Jerusalem (a half-shekel to remind us that we are part of a community).

SOVA Community Food and Resource Program provides free groceries as well as support services to people who are ill, elderly, unemployed or on limited incomes. SOVA (Hebrew for "eat and be satisfied"), a program of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, welcomes both monetary and food donations. Send checks to the Valley address. Bring your donations of tuna fish, canned fruit, peanut butter and other non-perishable healthful foods in non-breakable containers to any of the three Los Angeles area locations.

SOVA Valley, 16439 Vanowen Street, Van Nuys, (818) 988-7682; SOVA Metro 7563 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; SOVA W. 8846 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is a national, non-profit organization headquartered in Los Angeles that distributes monetary contributions from the Jewish community to prevent and alleviate hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds. The organization allocates $3 million annually to more than 300 carefully screened hunger-relief agencies, including emergency food providers and food banks. Donations can be made by check or credit card. Purim tribute cards are also available.

MAZON, 1990 S. Bundy Drive, Ste. 260, Los Angeles. (310) 442-0020. www.mazon.org.

10. Modern Technology

What was life like before the Internet? How ever did we celebrate Purim before YouTube, e-cards and the endless circulation of modern-day spoofs and shpiels on the Internet?

American Greetings Purim e-Cards: www.americangreetings.com/category.pd?path=23500&

Chabad's Virtual Purim: www.virtualpurim.com

BabagaNewz's Purim Central: www.babaganewz.com/Holidays/index.cfm?cat=23?=purimcentral

Purim on YouTube: "Beauty and the Beast" Purim style: youtube.com/watch?v=cuZABiJbV0w

Purim in the Air: youtube.com/watch?v=n5CgmxpMyzQ Tracker Pixel for Entry

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