Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What a Megillah

You may have heard the phrase "don't write a megillah" when asked to briefly describe something. Where does this come from? Is it related to the Gorilla? Does Magilla Gorilla have a long back-story?

Friday is a confluence of events, it is both Good Friday and Purim. I don't know the story of Good Friday, something to do with Jesus I bet. But here I would like to relate the story of Purim.

This was always a favorite holiday because you got to dress up like a queen (Esther) and eat hamentashen, those triangle fruit filled pastries. Sort of the halloween of the Jews. Except the Jews don't dress up like the dead people, they dress up like the heroes of the story. Every girl is Esther for a day, and every boy is either King Achashverosh or Mordechai, leader of the Jews. Maybe some rebels dress up like the minor characters, one crazy boy ALWAYS wants to be Haman the bad guy and one kid ALWAYS has intense, zionistic parents who have bought him a soldier's uniform to wear (it is indeed a holiday commemorating surviving a war).

The other thing we were made to do every year was to bring a roll of contact paper to school , the kind you line the drawers with. This paper (not the sticky kind) is the perfect replica of a scroll (which is what a megillah is, the story written on a scroll). One year, all we had at home was the sticky kind, and my mother didn't go out and buy a new roll (I probably forgot to remind her) so my megillah really sucked because I had to draw on the flowery side. Purim was spent writing and drawing the Book of Esther, to burn into our brains the story of how the Jews were saved (again) from total destruction. That a woman saved the day also makes it pretty special.

In brief, here is the megillah (with some help from the internet on actual true facts because the annual ritual of drawing on contact paper didn't actually help me remember it at all).

Some time in the Persian era, in the city of Shushan (currently in Iran) around 300BC or so, King Achashverosh asked his wife, Queen Vashti to perform at a party. She refused, so she was killed (or divorced, depending on which version you want to believe). The king found a new queen, Esther, but didn't know she was a Jew. She was also a close cousin to Mordechai the leader of the Jews, and who also had previously revealed a plot to murder the king thus saving his life, but had never been given recognition for his loyalty.

Then the king nominated Haman as prime minister. Haman demanded that everyone bow to him but Mordechai refused, because Jews don't bow to satanists (or whatever). So Haman got the king to issue an order to kill all the Jews on an upcoming date that was chosen by a seer. It was to happen on the 13th of Adar (this coming Friday). This is kind of where the story seems stupid, why would he announce the exact date of an annihilation that far in advance?

Anyways, Mordechai asks Esther to use her queen-hood to get the king to stop the genocide. In her clever way, knowing that he won't just listen to her, she devises a plan to gain his trust. She wines and dines the king and Haman, which makes them love her all the more.

The night after the party the king is having a bout of insomnia and is reading in bed. He turns to the history of how Mordechai saved his life by revealing a terrorist plot. The king decides to honor Mordechai with a big parade, which is an honor for Jews all around the land. Then, Esther reveals that she is Jewish and that there are plans underfoot to kill her people, including the man who saved the king's life. The king puts two and two together, realizes that he has made a mistake, and hangs Haman in the gallows that were built for Mordechai.

But it doesn't end there. And you see, it is rather a megillah. I can't make it any briefer.

Because they have rules and what is a kingdom without rules, the king can't rescind the order to kill the Jews. Maybe there isn't enough time to spread the word. So instead the king allows the Jews to defend themselves. War ensues and tens of thousands of people are killed. But the Jews survive as a race, remain free for the time being, and Mordechai is promoted to some kind of big fancy job working for the king. Happily ever after until the next genocide attempt.

So, on Friday, in addition to being happy about Good Friday, or whatever it is you do on that day, remember that it is ALSO one of the many days that the Jews were saved from annihilation by the kindness of a goy, so make sure that you eat a nice pastry while stamping your foot to drown out the name of Haman the bad guy.

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