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.
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.
Divorce, love, jealousy, intrigue, hate and murder are elaborated in five chapters, in such detail that they could easily fill five episodes of a Brazilian telenovela. It was these dramatic portrayals that inspired me last summer to create a book for children.
I felt it would be a huge challenge to span a credible arc from the Purim Bible story to the traditional merry children’s party. But to tell the tale of the Jewish people’s will to survive and of a celebration that occupies such an important place in the cycle of Jewish holidays simultaneously held great appeal for me.
So I set about staging the story with the aid of little dolls and oriental props, which I sewed myself and then set into the fantastical Persian landscapes I built in my living room. My colleague Nadja Rentzsch made a photographic record of all this and I then worked until dawn on her images, for what felt like 1,001 summer nights! In parallel, I had intense discussions with Myriam Halberstam, founder of the Ariella Verlag [publishing house] about those parts of the Book of Esther not really suitable for children—the bit about the fate of Queen Vashti, for example, who refuses to dance in front of her husband’s guests and in consequence is murdered—or so the official sources say. We agreed however that Vashti and King Ahasuerus would simply divorce—before the latter marries Esther.
The result of our discussions and stage sets—my book, Die schlaue Esther (Clever Esther)—was published in February 2015 by Ariella Verlag. In finest Jewish tradition, there are comments from the sidelines on all the texts and images. Thus speech bubbles above the heads of red-haired Schlomo and his humorless sheep Mendel make very clear that in the “Book of Esther for Adults” the punishment meted out to the anti-Semite Haman was far less mild—but also that ancient times were in any case a “brutal epoch.”
My hobby book project opened up new prospects also in my work on the Purim family program at the Jewish Museum Berlin: in the Academy entrance I’ve created an installation that entices visitors into a fantasy realm. A huge Esther roll serves as a stage for puppets in Oriental dress, set in a Persian landscape.
I decided against using Hebrew script on the roll since very religious Jews regard original texts as sacred and I did not want my artistic experiment to strike anyone as a sign of disrespect. Happy Purim to all of you, tall or small!
Shlomit Tripp (formerly Tulgan), author of “Die schlaue Esther”, puppeteer and a staff member in Education
Die schlaue Esther. Eine jüdische Erzählung aus dem alten Persien (Clever Esther. A Jewish Tale from Ancient Persia). Reinterpreted by Shlomit Tulgan in cooperation with bubales – Jewish Puppet Theater Berlin. Photos: Nadja Rentzsch. Ariella Verlag, Berlin 2015. ISBN 978-3-945530-009. Hardcover, 32 pp., 14.95 €.
Shlomit Tripp (2015), “Clever Esther”— Not Suitable for Children?!.
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Holidays: Old Rituals, New Customs (16)
Old Rituals, New Customs
Museum employees talk about traditions on Jewish holidays.
New Customs for the New Year
Shlomit Tripp about tashlikh boats and petals on the water
Kol Nidre and the “Civil Improvement of the Jews”
Haim Mahlev on controversies throughout the ages
Apples in Honey and Gefilte Fish
Museum employees share their personal experiences of the High Holidays
Avner Ofrath on Yom Kippur in Israel
Naomi Lubrich on candy as a tricky matter for synagogues on Simhat Torah
Menurkeys for Thanksgivukkah?
Food for thought and recipes by Signe Rossbach
“8 Facts” about Hanukkah
David Studniberg on the Jewish Feast of Dedication
“If I were a rich mouse ...”
Michal Friedlander on Mickey, Minnie and their Hanukkah message
In the Sleeping Car with Ten Hand-puppets and a Travel Hanukkah Candelabrum
Shlomit Tripp on her Hanukkah with the bubales family
Tu bi-Shevat Traditions in Israel
Avner Ofrath on trees, fruit, and a breath of New Age
“Clever Esther”— Not Suitable for Children?!
Shlomit Tripp reports about her child-oriented retelling of the Esther story
Across Mannheim in the Matzo-Mobile
David Studniberg about the great feeling to support others during the corona crisis
The Big Clean-Up
Dana Akrish on Passover in Jerusalem
A Kind of Family Gathering
Bitter Herbs and Their Relatives in the Diaspora Garden
The Long Night of Tikkun
Mirjam Wenzel and Avner Ofrath about what we can learn from loving women
Quite “best practice”
Tom Chai Sosnik celebrated his coming out as transgender in spring 2015 with remarkable aplomb – in a ceremony performed by Rabbi Tsipi Gabai at a Jewish school in California, supported by his family.