Purim: Extolling Esther


When they were little girls, Barbara Aiello and her sister fought over who would get to wear the Queen Esther costume for the Jewish celebration of Purim.

And why not?

Who wouldn’t want to be the woman known for radiant beauty even with no make-up, fierce courage, and an astute decision-making skill under fire that may have saved her people from annihilation, said Aiello, who grew up to be a rabbi affiliated with Bradenton’s Congregation Ner Tamid.

Esther was perhaps Audrey Hepburn, Golda Meir and Tina Turner all rolled into one.

The holiday of Purim, which is celebrated today and Sunday , is directly linked to Esther and the story that surrounds her, which makes up her own book of the Bible.

Bradenton’s Jewish congregations have planned Purim events that are open to the public.

Esther was selected by Persian King Ahasuerus to be his wife, even though she came before him wearing no make-up or perfume, and advised him that she was older than all the other women he was considering and one of them would make a better trophy.

But the Bible says the king found Esther different from the others and took her for his wife. She kept one secret from him. She was an orphaned Jew raised by her cousin.

In Persia at that time, the king had decreed that a prince named Haman should be bowed to by all when he would come by. The Jews would not bow. This enraged Haman who decided not only to destroy all Jews, but to offer citizens the chance to cast lots to arrive at the execution day.

The word, Purim, is Hebrew for lots or lottery, Aiello said.

Esther went to the king, risking her life because no one approached a king unannounced, and told him she wished him to spare her people, for she was Jewish.

“If I could talk to her, I would ask how she overcame her fear to do that,” Aiello said. “One of the most difficult things we can face is to stand up and say something that may lead to dire consequences.”

Rabbi Harold Caminker, of Temple Beth El, said he would ask Esther if, at first, the thought crossed her mind to be silent and save her own skin. After all, she was the queen.

Caminker guesses Esther would answer honestly, “ ‘Yes, at first I thought I would save my own life, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘Wait a minute. These are my people. I am their queen.’ ” Caminker said.

When the king heard the truth from Esther he ordered Haman to be hung and decreed that the Jews could defend themselves against the warriors who were ordered to kill them. More than 75,000 would-be conquerors were killed and the Jews survived.

“Esther is a Jewish hero,” Caminker said. “She may have been silent in the crisis and saved herself but she didn’t.”

Temple Beth El will celebrate Purim with a barbecue beginning at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at their campus, 4200 32nd St. W., Bradenton.

There will be lots of music and dancing, including a klezmer band, and Caminker will read the Megillah, which is the story of Esther from the Bible.

The event costs $5 per person or $10 for two adults and two children. Information: 755-4900.

Chabad of Bradenton’s Purim celebration kicks off at 6 p.m. Sunday with a Purim dinner at 11509 Palmbrush Trail, Bradenton. The event will feature the Megillah reading and the making of Hamantashen or Haman’s pockets pastries, which are named for the evil Haman. There will also be a drum circle. The Chabad event costs $12 for children and $18 for adults.

Congregation Ner Tamid’s sixth annual Purim Palooza was Friday and featured hissing and booing each time Haman’s name was uttered, Aiello said.

The highlight may have been Aiello’s turn as a puppeteer, with her “Bubbe Esther,” bringing a diva to life for a new generation.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.