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.
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
Preparing for the Educational Program on the Exhibition “The Creation of the World”
Detail from a Megilla (Esther scroll), 1750-1800, Alsace
© Braginsky Collection, Zurich, photo: Ardon Bar-Hama
As a part of the educational program accompanying the exhibition “The Creation of the World: Illustrated Manuscripts from the Braginsky Collection” we’re offering the workshop “But the Snake was Craftier…” about telling and passing down stories from generation to generation. Since very few of the schoolchildren who will participate in the workshop can read Hebrew, we’ll be looking closely at the illustrations. In addition to portrayals of David with the harp and Adam and Eve in the manuscripts, our program looks at the megillot, or Esther scrolls, with their illustrations. Six scrolls have been unrolled to their full length for the exhibition.
Before we take participants in to see the exhibition, a guide will tell the story of Esther. During this conscious act of listening, each person generates pictures in his or her own mind’s eye. Afterwards, the group visits the exhibition and looks at the Esther scrolls with a magnifying glass to re-discover the scenes they’ve heard about.
To prepare for this workshop, we consulted a storytelling expert. Ten museum employees met with Prof. Dr. Kristin Wardetzky to practice storytelling under her tutelage. The first chairwoman of the Society for the Art of Storytelling, Prof. Wardetzky also founded the storytelling department at the Berlin University of the Arts’ theater education department.
Our two-day workshop with Prof. Wardetzky enthralled us all. → continue reading
Detail of a Megillah, Germany, 18th century
© Jewish Museum Berlin. Photo: Michaela Roßberg
Today, 16 March, Jewish communities are celebrating Purim. On this holiday, the biblical Book of Esther is read aloud in synagogue. In keeping with tradition, the story of Esther—who saves the Jewish people in the Persian Empire from destruction by Haman, the king’s highest-ranking official—is read not from a book but from a parchment scroll. Commenting on the (Hebrew) reading, noisy hoots and rattles are sounded. (Alternative customs are described in our blog text for last year’s Purim).
Numerous Esther scrolls are currently in the custody of the Jewish Museum. The 32 works on loan will be on display along with other historical manuscripts from 4 April 2014, in the special exhibition “The Creation of the World. Illustrated Manuscripts from the Braginsky Collection.” → continue reading