The Real Hero of Purim? Family.
The Jewish holiday of Purim is a topsy-turvy, upside-down, and anything-can-happen-day. Unknown girls can become queens, humble men can become great, and a tiny people can survive a great calamity. And there are costumes! And there are cookies!
Every year, we pay so much attention to the royal intrigue that a very important value of Purim can get lost: the value of family. Mordecai raised Esther as his own daughter because she did not have a father or mother. What a powerful little unit they were! Closer to one another than perhaps to anyone else, Mordecai and Esther worked as a team first to get Esther into the palace as the king’s bride, then to stop an evil plot against the Jews, and then to save all of the Jews of Shushan.
What made their bond so powerful? First, Esther listened to Mordecai and Mordecai listened to Esther. Doesn’t it feel great when your family listens to you carefully? When you feel understood and loved? Second, they believed in each other. Esther believed Mordecai had the power to gather the Jews in Shushan to fast and pray for her, which gave Esther strength. And Mordecai believed in Esther, even telling her that perhaps she had come all this way just for this moment.
When we believe in our family members, we give them the strength and the courage to do amazing things. The very construction of Esther and Mordecai’s family contributed to their success. They were small, but mighty.
Families come in all shapes and sizes. There are different numbers of kids and different numbers of parents. Some families have same-sex parents. Some families are very large and include grandparents and cousins all in one house! Some families include friends, too. There are families of different races and ethnicities and families with different abilities. But no matter what your family looks like on the outside, on the inside families try their best to listen, love, understand, and believe in each other.
Our camp communities are families, too. From best friends to bunk-mates to being in the same unit, we construct families for ourselves at summer camp, whether we are sleeping away or just there for the day. There are even family camps that welcome grown-ups and their kids for a weekend or more. In all of these different configurations, we build relationships that rely on paying attention, supporting one another to do new and daring things, and drawing on individual talents to strengthen the family group. Like a home away from home, camp gives us many opportunities to expand our friendships and knit together a special family of our own choosing.
On Purim, we celebrate our many kinds of families in three ways! We read the megillah of Esther (to remember the holiday and the value of family in good times and bad), we give gifts to our family and friends (usually sweets and fruits), and give tzedakah (charity) to the poor (our extended family) through local organizations or directly to people in need. We do this because the megillah says, “Mordecai… instructed the [Jews] to make the fourteenth day of the month of Adar… feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.”
Here is a fun baking craft to do together as a family! One traditional treat is called hamantaschen, in Yiddish “Haman’s pockets,” after the villain in the Purim story. Hamantashen are triangle-shaped pastries that are filled with all sorts of delicious things – traditionally poppy-seed paste, jams, chocolate, and more. Click here for a step-by-step recipe for rainbow hamentaschen!
Be sure to also download our camp-inspired Camp Purim Activity Book!