By Molly Dubin, Curator
Purim, one of the most popular Jewish holidays, will begin at sunset on March 23rd.The holiday brings gifts of food, dressing up in costume, and fun-filled carnivals, this is an opportunity to party like rock stars!
But while cutting loose and getting a bit crazy are hallmarks of the holiday, the main attraction is the reading of the Megillah, or the scroll of Esther, which recounts the story of Purim. All the elements of a good story are present: a Persian king finding an unlikely new queen in a Jewish commoner named Esther who hides her Jewish identity, a power hungry villain named Haman with a murderous plot to destroy the Jews of Persia, and an act of courage that ultimately wins out to save the day.
Families participate in synagogue readings by shaking noise makers, or groggers, and booing at the mention of Haman’s name and cheering enthusiastically for Esther’s. Countering these playful parts of the holiday is the knowledge of an alternatively grave outcome if not for a steadfast belief in freedom of religious practice and the need to stand by one’s convictions.
Arthur Szyk, New Canaan, 1950. Book of Esther. The Holy Scriptures, The Jewish Publication Society of America. © 1974, all rights reserved.
Artist-activist Arthur Szyk dedicated his career to standing up against injustice and defending universal freedom, so it is fitting that he chose to illustrate the ‘Book of Esther’. In a provocative piece showing Haman hanging from the gallows meant for the Jews, Szyk inserts himself into the Purim story. He documents the victory of the Jewish people while looking to Haman with a ‘justice has been served’ glare. In a bold move, Szyk draws multiple swastikas on Haman’s clothing equating the villain and his evil plot with the Nazi persecution of European Jews throughout World War II.
The ‘Book of Esther’ is an extraordinary example of how Arthur Szyk bravely used his art to preserve Jewish heritage and fight persecution and prejudice, so while you or your child may be enjoying your Hamantaschen pastries (you can find Szyk enjoying this treat in this picture) dressed as Elsa or Batman, take a moment to give a shout out to the super hero that was Arthur Szyk! When #SzykHappens, Justice Prevails.
* Many communities and synagogues perform plays or satires that are known as Purim Shpiels or Shtick.