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Berger’s Burg: March is for Purim, St. Patty’s, many more

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In last week’s column, I reviewed about half of the more interesting ethnic holidays celebrated during the month of March: St. David’s Day (March 1), The Moomba Festival (March 2), and The Dolls’ Festival (March 8). But, to paraphrase the great Al Jolson, you ain’t read nothing yet.

At sundown March 9, Jews all over the world will celebrate the merry holiday of Purim (the Feast of Lots), which has roots in the Old Testament and in the megillah, the scroll of Esther. It may be considered by some to be one of the lesser Jewish holidays, but it certainly is one of the most fun (which is nice, considering that most Jewish holidays are on the somber side).

During the persecution and struggles to overcome fierce anti-Semitism over the millennia, Jews have managed to retain an exuberance for life that has resulted in many triumphant moments.

The story of Purim is one of them. It is a tale of how a woman’s charm saved many Jewish lives. It seems that in ancient biblical times, ol’ King Abasverus of Persia (now Iran) needed a new wife. Why, you ask, did he need a new wife? Don’t ask!

So he held a beauty pageant, and among the contestants was a lovely woman named Esther. Abasverus was unaware that Esther was a ward of her cousin, the renowned Jewish sage, Mordecai. But I believe it wouldn’t have made that much difference. Esther’s intoxicating beauty wowed the king and he quickly picked her to be his queen.

Now the plot really thickens. Mordecai was having problems with Haman, the evil viceroy. Haman had commanded that everyone greet him like a deity. Mordecai, true to the basic Jewish belief in one, and only, one God, refused to prostrate himself before this self-proclaimed god.

This infuriated Haman, and he unleashed his rage upon the entire Jewish population. He convinced the king to destroy them all because Jews were now, in his mind, the enemy.

The day arrived when the slaughter was to begin. The victims’ time for execution would be chosen by paper lot. Fortunately, Mordecai got wind of this evil plan and sent an urgent message to his ward, now Queen Esther.

Realizing that many lives were at stake, Esther immediately hastened to the king without an appointment. This was considered an unforgivable act penalized by death.

Dressed as irresistibly as possible, Esther not only was able to see the king without an appointment (my doctors should be so obliging), but she was also able to explain to her hubby, between kisses, that Haman’s edict would mean the end of her life and their sweet marriage. The choice was quite clear to the king. He spared the Jews, hanged the evil Haman, and the royal couple and their kingdom lived happily ever after.

It would have been nice if there were someone like Esther around in Germany some 50 years ago.

A popular Purim tradition is for children to dress up, Halloween-style, as random characters, with masks and costumes and whenever the name of Haman is mentioned, they make as much noise as possible (with voices and noisemakers), to drown out the scoundrel’s name.

But, the tradition I like most is devouring those delicious triangular pastries, filled with poppy seeds or fruit, the “Hamantaschen” (named after the villain himself, in the shape of the hats he liked to wear). Giving gifts to the unfortunate and visiting hospital patients are also part of the holiday tradition.

Erin Go Bragh! March 17 heralds the arrival of St. Patrick's Day and the wearing of the green. The bit of green is a reminder of the beautiful, green countryside of Ireland, the Emerald Isle. Green is also the color of a shamrock, the national flower of Ireland.

Observers view St. Patrick’s Day as both a holy day and a national holiday. It was St, Patrick, who later became the patron saint of Ireland, who brought Christianity to that country. According to legend, St. Patrick used a shamrock to explain about God, using the symbolism of the small green plant that has three leaves on each stem. St. Patrick told the people the shamrock was like the idea of Trinity - that in the one God there are three divine entities, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christianity quickly took hold in the areas he visited.

Young Patrick was born in Christian Britain, but, as a boy of 16, he was taken from his home by pirate raiders and sold as a slave in then-pagan Ireland. He escaped and became a monk in France, but the six years he had spent in Ireland left him with a great desire to bring Christ to the people he had grown to love.

He returned to Ireland as a missionary, and for a half-century, he traveled the length and breadth of the rugged, beautiful island, battling the Druid priests who ruled the land under a polytheistic religion of fear and human sacrifice.

St. Patrick died in the year 401, after founding 300 churches and Christianizing half of Ireland.

Every year, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with parades; the one in Dublin has come to be known as the Irish Mardi Gras. But of all the parades, the one in New York City is perhaps the biggest. Two large Irish wolf hounds always lead the marchers in the gala Manhattan parade. More than 100 bands and hundreds of marchers follow the dogs up Fifth Avenue. It is quite a sight to see.

So, this March 17, put on your old green bonnet with the green ribbon on it, a shamrock, and a big smile and join the festivities. And remember, you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy the fun!

Another March holiday, observed in Italy, is St. Joseph’s Day, which falls on the 19th. Joseph was the carpenter from Nazareth who was chosen to be the husband of the Virgin Mary.

On March 21, Mexico celebrates the birthday of: Benito Juarez, one of the greatest leaders in the history of Mexico who helped free the nation from the yoke of France in the 19th century.

And, on March 25, Greece celebrates its Independence Day. In 1829, after eight long years of war, the Greeks finally won independence from Turkey and became an independent nation.

No, dear readers, my birthday is not celebrated this month. But don’t you agree that March is still truly a marvelous month of holidays?

Reach Times-Ledger Columnist Alex Berger at 718-2299300, Ext. 139, or aberger3@nyc.rr.com

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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