David Ezra thought he knew why he was celebrating Purim at a carnival in Irvine on Sunday. "Because Haman wouldn't let the people go, so, King Aha . . . uh, King Asha . . uh . . . oh, I forgot," said the flustered 8-year-old from Irvine, looking sheepish under his yarmulke.
Never mind: He and his grandmother, Sherry Ezra of Palm Springs, were having a good time throwing darts at balloons in a booth named "Deflate Haman's Plans."
"I got one," exclaimed Sherry Ezra after a loud pop. Then she threw again and missed. "Oh, I got carried away."
Which is part of the idea, explained Vickie Boshnack of Irvine. "Purim is a party time, a time when you can be opposite what you normally are," she said, keeping an eye on her 4-year-old daughter, Emily, who was dressed up as Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, but was behaving more like a child than like royalty.
"It's for the children," Boshnack said.
But it wasn't only for the children. Harris Kershnar of Irvine wore an Indian chief's headdress as he sat selling tickets to the carnival's rides and games. "I'm from one of the lost tribes," he joked. "Actually, I happen to be in the Indian Guides with my son."
So who is this Haman, and Queen Esther? And why did more than 200 Jews attend the outdoor carnival at the Chabad of Irvine Jewish Center, the group's second annual Purim festival?
Pay attention, youngsters, and you, too, David.
About 2,300 years ago, the Persian King Ahasuerus threw a big party to celebrate his reign over 127 provinces, from India to Ethiopia. To show that he ruled at home as well, he ordered his wife, Queen Vashti, to display her charms before all the assembled nobles and princes.
No way, Vashti said. Afraid that the kingdom's women would follow suit and disobey their husbands, Ahasuerus unceremoniously booted Vashti out of the palace and began a search for a new queen.
He summoned all the young maidens in his kingdom to his palace in Shushan and finally settled on Esther, unaware that she was Jewish.
Meanwhile, Ahasuerus' right-hand man, Haman, was passing through the royal gates one day and became angry when Esther's cousin, Mordecai, refused to bow down to him as others did. Haman went to the king and obtained an edict from the king ordering that all Jews in the kingdom be put to death. A special gallows was built for Mordecai.
It was time for Esther to play her hand. At a banquet she arranged for Haman and Ahasuerus, she told the king that she was a Jew and thus would have to be killed along with her people if Haman's plans were carried out.
The king went outside and pondered his dilemma in the garden. When he came back in, Haman was on a couch with Esther, begging her forgiveness. Ahasuerus thought he was begging for something else and ordered him hanged--on the gallows that were intended for Mordecai.
He also reversed his original decree and gave the Jews permission to slay \o7 their\f7 enemies. And they did, smiting more than 75,000 of them. The next day, the 14th day of the month of Adar, they celebrated their good fortune, and established the day as Purim, the Festival of Lots, a day of rejoicing.
"Haman was an evil man . . . the old Hitler," explained Rabbi Mendel Duchman, director and spiritual leader of the Chabad center. "Purim celebrates a victory--it's another example of when the chosen people were . . . to be wiped off the map and it turns out that they survive."
The actual Purim holiday--the 14th day of Adar--occurs next Saturday evening and Sunday and is observed by reading the Megillah (the Book of Esther) twice, donating money to the poor and sharing a festive meal with family and friends. The festival is held before the holiday so it does not interfere with the religious observances, Duchman said.