While for many communities in the Northern Hemisphere Purim comes at the tail end of winter, here in Tokyo it is always a beautiful time of year. Though winter here is easy, in comparison with other northern climes, it is always nice when Spring arrives. The temperature begins to warm, and the early spring flowers – especially the pink plum blossoms – add color to the leafless trees, and the browns left from late winter.
Of course, even if it were still mid-winter – as it was in my former Canadian home – Purim time still would be special. It is a time of fun and games, celebration and gladness. Purim is emblematic of a topsy-turvy world, where mourning turns to gladness, and existential threats to times of celebration. God may seem absent, but when Esther and Mordechai act, when we act, God’s presence is revealed, and we realize that God was always here, we just did not realize it.
Celebration, joy and gladness certainly were in the air as costumed children (and their parents) gathered for the annual Jewish Community of Japan Purim Carnival. This year all the activities planned and carried out by our Education Director Shelley Kunin, with the aid of seven teen assistants, were all new and fresh. While all were uniquely appropriate to Purim, some also captured the flavour of Japan. Each activity took part of the story of Purim and brought it alive for our children.
Those who listen carefully to the Megillat Esther each year may remember that Esther and the other potential brides did not enter the king’s presence unprepared. Instead they spent months bathing in perfumes and adorned with costly cosmetics. Each child at the JCJ was likewise prepared, though with just cosmetics, well face paints that is, instead of perfume. I hope that Achashverosh likes cats, since whiskers seemed particularly popular.
After their time with the cosmetics, everyone was ready to be selected as the new queen (or king) of Persia. In the megillah there was a great beauty pageant - at the JCJ we played musical chairs. The last one sitting would be the new queen. Mayim was a great melody for the game, with the children essentially dancing around the chairs. The very little kids were a bit traumatized, so in the end they just had fun circling their chairs, and none were eliminated. We did get a bit carried away, playing two rounds. So, I guess there will now be two Jewish queens of Persia.
I don’t think that any of us can forget that Haman chose the day of destruction (the 14thday of Adar) by casting lots, purin Hebrew – purimis the plural. Here in Japan casting lots to tell fortunes is extremely popular at local temples and shrines. After randomly choosing a long stick, a fortune (called an Omikuji), either good or bad is revealed. These fortunes reveal a host of answers, from future friendship and love to success on exams. Luckily bad fortunes can be tied to wires provided at shrines, allowing the bad luck to blow away in the wind. At the JCJ we made old school origami fortune tellers (I remember them from when I was a kid), whose answers led to special JCJ Purim/omikuji. Whether cheesy, wise or witty, none of these omikuji required wind inside our building to blow them away.
What should be done to the person the king delights to honour? Haman suggested that the person be led through the city while dressed in a royal robe and wearing a royal crown. This was just what he was forced to do for Mordechai. Here at the JCJ every child was Mordecai. We ran relay races, as each child in turn ran while wearing the king’s own haori (kimono jacket) and crown. Each child was the one the king was delighted to honour.
It turns out that plastic milk bottles, with some dried beans make ideal groggers. Decorated with washi tape and magic marker, they were ready for use to drown out the memory of Haman. The family Megillah reading provided the ideal opportunity. With a variety of entertaining voices, and an appropriate sneeze after each Achashverosh, the story of Esther was brought to life. Listening closely to the Hebrew and the English I doubt that a single Haman was missed.
What would Purim be without food, and lots of it! There are so many feasts in the Book of Esther, I find it difficult to count them. Our celebration concluded in the Palace, that is to say the JCJ’s grand dining room. I doubt the food in Shushan was better than the JCJ’s falafel, humus and home baked pita bread. I know for sure that no Persian hamantashen can compare with Izeki-san’s delicious triangular ear (or is it hat) shaped cookies.
None of our celebrations would have been possible without Shelley and her dedicated teen helpers. We also were reminded of the mitzvah of Shelach Manot as each person was given a wonderful package by Izumi-san. Thank you so much Izumi-san for observing this wonderful mitzvah. Also the staff of the JCJ in office and kitchen helped to create a wonderful Purim atmosphere.