About two months before Purim, curious noises fill our home. There's a lot of "You know it, baby," said in a confident, raspy voice. And "Woo, woo, woo, woo, woo!"--always uttered fast, like a racing train. Invariably, these are followed by a lot of giggling. Several years ago my husband, Phillip, began telling our children a really snappy version of a traditional favorite, the Purim story. Instead of that stilted tale often seen in Hebrew school books ("I must get to the king," Esther said. "For I cannot let Haman fulfill his evil plans."), Phil's account has Vashti employed at the Shushan Bar & Grill (she returns to her old job after losing the king's favor), Haman telling his unwitting admirers, "You know it, baby!" when they heap praise upon him, and King Ahashverosh's eyes bulging out to Mexico and back when he catches sight of the lovely Esther. He gasps, then calls: "Woo, woo, woo, woo, woo!"
My children can't get enough of it. They giggle, they scream with pleasure. They literally fall on the floor with laughter.
And at the end of the story they always say the same thing: "Tell it again!" If only it could be that way for everyone.
Instead, many anticipate a little catnap during the reading of the megillah, the Scroll of Esther, or maybe bring along a
paperback to sneak inside. After all, haven't we told the same story year after year after year? Yes, but familiar does
not have to mean stale. In fact, all it takes it a little preparation to
hearing the story of Purim new, fun and
meaningful again for you and your family.
Why They Did What They Did
We all know that Esther was pretty and Mordechai brave and Haman evil. But in fact, a number of interesting texts exist which explore the characters of these famous figures, based on historical information. Before listening to the megillah, do your research. You can start with the Encyclopedia Judaica, continue at your synagogue or temple library, and even look into sites on the Web. Or, invite family members to offer their own insight as to why Haman hated the Jews, or why Esther was so daring.
Instead of taking the familiar route and hearing the megillah at your congregation (there is no halachic or religiously legal obligation to hear it as part of a minyan or quorum of ten), ask your children to present the story as a father or mother reads the text. The children can act out the megillah, as a dramatic play starring themselves (remember, it only takes about 50 minutes to read the entire story), or using favorite toys like dinosaurs and plastic bugs, Barbie dolls and toy soldiers. Have children create their own costumes (napkins colored with felt pens make lovely temporary attire) for their little puppets. Or invite boys and girls to make their own paper dolls of Mordechai, Esther and Haman.
The Write Stuff
Since there's no halachic admonition against writing on Purim for all the branches of Judaism, this is a great time to have your children color and draw their own version of the story. But don't just give them paper and crayons. Instead, begin an adventure. Find a blank book and write a few lines that will inspire art: This is what the land of Shushan looked like: Here is Queen Esther looking out her window. She sees... Here is Haman as sits at his favorite chair, considering what to do with the Jews. Here is King Ahashverosh before he became ruler of Shushan.
To make it more fun, add things like a telegram Haman sends to his rotten associates to warn them that his plans may go astray. Draw the design of a blank telegram in the book, and let children write the copy. Or tape one end of a piece of paper to a page, so that it can be lifted and a design drawn underneath (perhaps the king gave Esther a present when they married? What would it be?). Or, draw a few scribbles and ask children to make them into anything having to do with Purim. You can include some stickers and a new pack of washable markers with this interactive book, which will keep your child happy and entertained for hours.
Paper-Bag Dramatics: A New Twist
Prepare one small bag for every family member. Inside each place an odd assortment of about 10 items you can find around the house. Examples can include an orange or apple, a pencil, an envelope, a rubber band, a pair of socks, a tube of lipstick, a box of crayons, a can of tuna, pieces of pasta. Then have each person briefly tell the Purim story using the items. There are no rules, so a pair of socks could represent Ahashverosh, or a sock could simply be his throne and viewers would have to imagine the king.
Have your entire family imagine they are putting on a film version of the story of Purim. Find each person's strong point or interest and put it to use. The pianist in the family should create some music. The fashion lover should design costumes, either with illustrations or clothes from around the house (or better yet, shop at your favorite thrift shop for some fun finds). The budding chef can research what Esther and Mordechai might have eaten, then prepare a meal accordingly. Each person can present his findings at the Purim dinner, or maybe you'll even be daring enough to actually script, and act out, your own Purim story on video.
Though we all know the story of Purim, it's difficult to actually remember the details of the story. Test family members on their knowledge of the whole megillah after the reading. You can make a fill-in-the-blank, or multiple choice quiz in advance. Give a prize to the winner.
Food For Thought
As with most Jewish holidays, an integral part of the Purim celebration is the seudah, or meal. Try celebrating yours with quirky foods that relate to the megillah (a good imagination or weird sense of humor is vital). For example, make rolls that look like scrolls (for the megillah), make ice cubes from tea (get it? Vashti), or serve soup with lots of bones (because Haman was such a bonehead).
You Wouldn't Believe...
There are a number of unusual facts about the megillah which you'll discover by carefully reading the text, or by doing a little research. (Did you know, for example, that God's name is not mentioned even once?) Ask every family member to come up with one great tidbit like that before heading off for services.