Monday, March 9, 2009

Book of Esther

Tomorrow (well..actually starting tonight, because Jewish festivals start at sundown rather than sunrise) is The Poppyseed Cookie Festival, otherwise known as Purim. Purim is a very special festival for me.

When I was born my grandparents commissioned the writing of Megillat Esther in my honour. Megillat Esther is the Book of Esther which is included in the Hebrew Tanach (which is made up of Torah, Prophets and's one of the "Writings"). A scribe must write these holy books in a very precise manner dictated by both law and tradition, you can see what is involved in this video:

Each letter must be EXACT or the entire scroll is nullified, you can also hear the scribe whispering the word as he writes it (I think this is a tradition). The letters hang down from lines and there are no vowels and no cantillation marks (as there are in the book form of the Holy Writings, which can be bought at bookshops and are mass printed).

When I was one year old my grandparents brought the completed scroll to "show" me and they then donated it to their synagogue in my name. I believe that the congregation in that synagogue will be reading from it this Purim, as they hopefully have for the last 38 years.

Approximately 17 years ago Miss Commentbox's punctual arrival into the world (she was born on her due date and has been highly organised and punctual ever since) was celebrated by my grandparents through a second commissioning of Megillat Esther, this time to be kept by me!! I shall take a picture tomorrow to show you, I'm just too tired tonight to start photographing anything.

Almost exactly 14 years ago my son was born on the day after Purim. I went to my synagogue to hear the reading of the Book of Esther when I was 9 days overdue, and I remember how almost everyone in the congregation said "Oh, you're STILL here??!!" Ugh.

Last year, Master Commentbox (that huge, overdue Purim baby) became a bar mitzvah (a son of the Law) in that same synagogue - he read from the Torah and led many parts of the service, and then we all ate a lot of smoked salmon and chopped herring and bagels and celebrated with family and friends.

In honour of that special day I joined my local Women's Prayer Group and participated in their annual reading of the Book of Esther. I was allotted verses 21-23 of Chapter 2 and I read them in front of a small group of like-minded women including my mother, daughter and a couple of good friends.

It was a revelation.

There I was - singing the ancient tune, speaking ancient words written on parchment.

Here is an example of what it sounds like. You may notice that the beginning of this reading sounds like the Brahms' Lullaby, I think it must be a humorous addition to the tradition because the first verse of Chapter Two describes King Ahashverosh who could not sleep! It is traditional to dress in funny costumes, which explains the reader's clothes. The woman to the left is the "checker," she is reading along in a printed book so as to ensure that no mistakes are made. Every time the name "Haman" is mentioned we make a loud noise, it's a tradition to do this because Haman is the evil man in the story who attempts to have all the Jews of Persia killed.

Tomorrow morning I will once again join the Women's Prayer Group and read my allotted verses. I just need to find the perfect funny costume to wear!!


kim at allconsuming said...

You know how enchanting I find your world don't you.

Thank you SO much for today - forget Auntie, the boys will be calling you St Eleanor after they devoured those goodies this afternoon.

Suse said...

Happy poppyseed festival!

And happy birthday to Master Commentbox.

Tuli said...

I would love to see a photo of your funny costume!

Anne said...

Happy Purim Eleanor!
It looks like a fun time for all:)

margalit said...

Chag semeach. My best Purim costume was Queen Vasahti. I wore old sweats, yellow playtex rubber gloves and carried a bucket filled with cleaning supplies. I had a sign on my sweatshirt that said:

"I vashti windows
I vashti floors
I vashti dishes"

It was a big hit!

You daven beautifully. Such a voice!

kmkat said...

You do indeed have a lovely voice -- so crystalline pure. I loved the boy in his Harry Potter cape.

Badger said...

Happy holiday, dear Eleanor! And happy birthday to your Purim baby!

RW said...

Thanks for this post.
I shall find something filled with poppy seeds and eat it and think of you and your family.

My only question is what happens to the reader if the "checker" finds that she has made a mistake. Do you start over? Are you dismissed and someone takes over? It it stressful?

Good luck with the costume. I look forward to hearing what you chose.

Alexis said...

Happy Purim!

Jen said...

Happy hamantaschen time, Mrs. Commentbox!

laura said...

happy belated Purim dear Eleanor & family

fifi said...

when I was a child I used to wish I were jewish.
I think i just had a relapse...

gorgeous. So lovely to be a part of this.