Purim is next Friday, the joyous holiday that celebrates the saving of the Jews from a threatened massacre in ancient Persia. (So joyous that the Yizkor book of Klobuck, Poland notes that during the holiday, Jews are permitted to drink alcohol to the point that they cannot tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai, referring to the Persian villain Haman who wanted to kill all Jews in the empire, and the Jew Mordechai who defied him).
Here are three excerpts from the JewishGen Yizkor book collection that celebrate the holiday. At the center of these is the Purim-shpil — the skits performed at festive meals with performers dressed in masks and costumes depicting the characters in Book of Esther, which recounts the Purim story.
The Purim-shpilers would receive money, food or drink in return. They come in “adorned with brass buttons and their faces are smeared with soot. They position themselves and play-act the story of Purim – from beginning to end,” recalls Tzivia Greenglass writes in the Yizkor book of Gorodets, Belarus. “The red Haman used to scare me,” he admits.
The account of the holiday in the Yizkor book of Czyzew-Osada, Poland describes the different kinds of shpilers: those who performed to collect donations for worthy causes, the needy who used the opportunity to get money and good for hungry families, and young men who needed to raise money for equipment before they went into military service or money to ransom themselves from the draft.
The last excerpt is not from a Yizkor book but is part of the JewishGen Yizkor book collection. “The Book of Klezmer” also recounts the pageantry described in the other chapters, but my favorite passage was about the food: “The dishes still leave me with a taste today,” the writer says. “Such an atmosphere it was. The koyletch [challah] tasted like the Garden of Eden. Then there was the fish of the day, and the gildene yoyikh [the golden broth, or chicken soup] …The mother made a sweet dish called palave. Just as one would never have a seder without a parsnip tsimmes, one never had a Purim meal without palave. In the palave there were small raisins mixed in with a grain. We called it ‘kish-mish.’ “
Silver Spring MD
Researching: DRACH, EBERT, KIMMEL, ZLOTNICK
Towns: Wojnilow, Kovel