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Purim traditions around the world

David Ben-Gurion float at the Adloyada parade in 1998. (IGPO Photo) (courtesy Israel Government Press Office)

King Achashverosh was Finnish with his disobedient wife Vashti. “You Congo now!” he ordered her. After she had Ghana way, the king’s messengers went Roman the land to find a new queen. And India end, the beautiful Esther won the crown…

Think you know everything about Purim? Think again. As Judaism’s happiest day of the year, we are familiar with the hamantashen, greggers and the costumes. But how about holiday snowmen, human-shaped cakes and crying cacti? These are just some of the Purim traditions from around the world.

In Egypt young men rode through the Jewish street on horses, camels, or donkeys, to recall the verse “and they brought him [Mordechai] on horseback through the street of the city.” [Megillat Esther 6:11] Lithuania would see Yeshiva students get the opportunity to dress up as rabbis, deliver outrageous speeches and gently mock their teachers. In Minsk, they were ingenious with their noisemakers: “a hammer was fixed to an anvil, to strike at every mention of Haman. A large stone rigged to ropes, was released with a loud thud. … A tinsmith and his two sons made a noisemaker with tin balls rolling from chamber to chamber, jingling and jangling.”

India gets special mention in the first line of Megillat Esther which reads, “It happened in the days of Achashverosh, he who ruled from India to Ethiopia, over 127 provinces.” The woman of the house would prepare cookies from walnuts, almonds, and peanuts, and a special sweet savoury called Puran Poli, a mixture of boiled gram, molasses, and cardamom powder which is ground together and used as a filling for wheat dough. The dough is flattened into a thin, circular flat bread and then baked on an open skillet.

How many ways can you think of letting Haman have it? In Afghanistan, they stomped on Haman cutouts and in Yemen they dragged a Haman scarecrow through the streets. In wintry Bukhara, a large “snow-Haman” was built near the synagogue. A “gold chain” of dried watermelon peels was hung over his stomach and a broken pot was placed on his head. After the Purim feast, a bonfire was built and everyone gathered to sing while “Haman” melted.

Things would also heat up for Haman in Iran. On Purim eve, the children would make an effigy of Haman, and at night they would pour oil on it and set it on fire. While it burned, they would circle it, chanting in Arabic, “This is Haman and Purim; and the basket is on his head.”

Let’s take a pause from the torture of Haman and see how we can torment the English language and treat lovers of puns. Here is an excerpt from “The World Famous Story of Purim.” Rather than try to explain this work, I’ll leave it to you to wade through it, preferably aloud.

“I Haiti you because you refuse to bow to me!” Haman scolded Mordechai. “USA very stubborn man. You Jews are such Bahamas! If you keep his up, Denmark my words! I will have all your people killed! Just Kuwait and see, you Turkey!”

Over in Germany on Purim eve, torches containing gunpowder would be ignited. During the Megillah reading, the gunpowder exploded with a deafening noise. In Italy, youngsters would divide into two camps and throw nuts at each other. And how about that Salonikan tradition? “Haman-shaped” cakes were baked and placed on the window ledges until the festive Purim meal. During the meal, the cakes were sliced and eaten.



What would a tour of Purim around the world be without a look at the traditions of the country where it all began, Persia? “Esther and Mordechai existed in the conscious and subconscious during the whole year,” said Rabbi David Shofet of Santa Monica’s Nessah Israel Congregation. Iranian Jews would often make the trek to pray at the tombs of Esther and Mordechai. “It was the Jewish place to go and ask and pray and cry, especially when it was difficult to go to Israel and the Kotel HaMaaravi,” the Western Wall. As for other traditions, Rabbi Shofet remembers effigies of Haman being hanged and burned in backyards and mounds of halvah in the mishloach manot.


The king asked, “Esther, why Jamaica big meal like this? Just tell me what you want. Unto half my United Kingdom will I give you.” Esther replied, “Spain full for me to say this, but Haman is Russian to kill my people.”


Make sure to download the marvelous booklet, Purim Traditions from the Lands of the Galuyot. It has yet more traditions including from Yemen where “they would find a cactus with many branches, spread them like heads in a row, and call it ‘the 10 sons of Haman.’ “ They would then bury them in a “grave” or throw darts at them “so that they would leak the milky juice from inside. They would say that these were the tears of Haman begging for forgiveness, but he didn’t deserve it.” In Morocco (they would bake challot with hardboiled eggs inside. When they sliced and at the challah, they would say they were tearing out the eyes of Haman. Ouch!



Where can you find a gathering of a quarter million Israelis – and the only thing they demonstrating is their joy? The “Adloyada” is a traditional Purim carnival which has regained popularity in Israel. The name comes from the phrase “…and you should drink until you don’t know (ad lo yada) the difference between ‘Cursed is Haman, Blessed is Mordechai.’”


And (SPOILER) here’s how the story ends … as if you didn’t know.


“… Haman and his ten sons were hanged and went immediately to the Netherlands. And to Sweden the deal, the Jews were allowed to Polish off the rest of their foes as well. “You lost your enemies and Uganda friend,” the king smiled. And that is why the Purim story Israeli a miracle. God decided to China light on His chosen people. So now, let’s celebrate! Forget all your Syria’s business and just be happy! Serb up some wine and Taiwan on!”


Happy Purim!!!