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March 16, 2011 11:01 am

You Eat Your Humentashen, You Take Your Chances

avatar by Matthue Roth

Purim is known as “the fun holiday.” It’s a time during which people dress in costumes, dance, party, and are enjoined to drink alcohol. But these traditions aren’t just fun–they’re ways of embracing the randomness and the out-of-control nature of the holiday of Purim.

(You guys know the story of Purim, right? If not, watch this mini-movie, and then I’ll dive into the fun stuff. Ready?

Ready.)

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The story of Purim oscillates between the ludicrous and the deadly–literally. Esther, a timid young Jewish woman, is selected to be queen, by chance, it seems. Right before that happened, however, the previous queen had just been put to death. Similarly, when her cousin Mordechai hears about an assassination attempt on the King, he steps forward and is declared a hero–yet his bravery is written down and almost immediately forgotten about. And when Haman chooses a day to order the Jews’ genocide, he uses a lottery to pick the day.

“God plans and man laughs,” says the old Yiddish expression. Purim is a time when we’ve little choice but to laugh at how arbitrary and sometimes wonderful Fate can be. When a decree of death is waived without a second thought, or when a lowly Jewish girl can become queen of 127 provinces–that’s Purim for you.

Photo: Joana Coccarelli

Cross-posted from Mixed Multitudes.

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