“Clever Esther”— Not Suitable for Children?!

Purim is a family celebration, a time when children dress up, make a great din with rattles and gorge themselves on traditional Haman sweetmeats. By so much merriment it seems a little astonishing to recall that this religious holiday is actually rooted in a Bible story that is anything but happy and G-rated.

Male an female puppets in front of an blue screen

King Ahasuerus falls in love with Esther © photo: Shlomit Tulgan

The Book of Esther, which is read on Purim, tells of how the orphan girl Esther carries out a spectacular operation to rescue the Jewish people from the hands of King Ahasuerus, ruler of the Kingdom of Persia. The anonymous author recounts this story in the style of an epic poem and thereby suggests that God plays only a minor role in the proceedings. He turns the spotlight instead on the cunning with which clever Esther and her Uncle Mordechai manage to stop vizier Haman from realizing the pogrom he has planned against the Persian Jews.  continue reading

New Customs for the New Year

Girl releasing a paper ship into the waterA few years ago, a guest lecturer from New York visited the Berlin synagogue at Fraenkelufer and showed our congregation a new way of practicing an old Rosh ha-Shanah custom, that of tashlikh.

Usually Jews gather for the New Year holiday at the bank of a river and scatter breadcrumbs in the water as a symbolic way of shedding their misdeeds of the last year. The American professor did not strew breadcrumbs in the canal across from the synagogue however; rather, she placed a little homemade paper boat into the water, in which she’d tucked a letter to God. In the letter, she begged for forgiveness for her offences and affirmed her resolutions. The letter also contained thanks for the good experiences of the last year and her wishes for the coming one.  continue reading