Sunday, February 21, 2010

It is said that with the coming of the Hebrew month, Adar, we are joyous. Adar, which usually coincides with the month of March, brings with it Purim. This festival signifies the prevention of a massacre of the Jews of Persia in 486-465 B.C. planned by Haman, the Grand Vizier of the King of Persia, Achashverus. Believed to be King Xerxes, at that time Achasverus chose a new wife from the Jewish community, Esther. The name Esther is derived from the Hebrew word "hester", i.e. "hidden," hinting at the hidden turn of events.

Esther was able with the help of her brother Mordechai to foil Haman's plans by disclosing them to the king at a feast which she organized. And since Haman's evil was turned "upside down", against him, it is a Jewish custom to dress up as something or someone else in a fun way. A celebratory feast is eaten to commemorate Esther's feast, much wine is imbibed by the adults and laughter and silly behavior are engaged in by both old and young.

But Purim is totally unlike Halloween in that gory or frightening costumes which glorify death are not the custom. Costumes based on word games and puns are popular. For instance when the Secretary General of the UN was Kofee Anan - Anan is "cloud" in Hebrew - my son was the first to appear as a coffee can with a cloud suspended above his head.

Last week at my grandchildrens' school each class chose a Purim family theme and went with it. On Monday, the first graders all dressed up as grandmothers, the second grade as teenagers, the third grade as babies, the fourth grade as bride and groom, and so on.

For myself, Adar marks the month when the Mountain Swifts return to nest in Jerusalem and I anxiously await their call. Below is the translation of one of my many Hebrew poems about this beloved bird which appear in my book, "The Secret Life of Birds":

Conversations with Birds

At six of a morning
a sharp cry of clamorous delight,

the season's first troop of Mountain-Swifts
has entered my dream,

fled into the wind, into blue mists breaking,
they call out
- Adar is here
and we have returned to you.

(c) Shira Twersky-Cassel

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