Jeff Dreifus, a rabbinical student from New York who serves as a rabbi for Juneau’s Congregation Sukkat Shalom, talks about the Jewish holiday Purim and its traditions, Friday, March 15, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Jeff Dreifus, a rabbinical student from New York who serves as a rabbi for Juneau’s Congregation Sukkat Shalom, talks about the Jewish holiday Purim and its traditions, Friday, March 15, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

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Joyful holiday Purim celebrates survival of Jews

The jubilant Jewish holiday Purim has an almost unfortunate resonance in modern times, said Jeff Dreifus, a rabbinical student from New York who serves as a rabbi for Juneau’s Congregation Sukkat Shalom.

The holiday, which will be observed this year March 20 and 21, celebrates the thwarting of a plan to kill all Jews as told in the Book of Esther in both the Tanakh and Old Testament.

“Traditionally, in Judaism, it’s supposed to be our most joyous holiday,” Dreifus said. “It’s kind of weird to force yourself to be happy, and it’s kind of like things are so terrible, this group tried to annihilate your people and wipe you off the face of the Earth that you really need to institute all these things to make yourself joyous even though that if it had gone the other way there’d be no more Jews. Unfortunately, that’s a theme that’s repeated throughout history and even today with resurgences in antisemitism. It’s just as relevant today as it has been.”

Purim will be celebrated in Juneau with a screening of the movie “Dough” on Wednesday at Gold Town Theater, and Hamantaschen made by the Jewish youth group Beit Sefer will be available. It is the final event in the Juneau Jewish Film Festival.

Gold Town Theater manager Collette Costa also made Hamantaschen for a screening of the dramedy “Dough” earlier in the week.

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“The secret is they’re like thumbprint cookies,” Costa said.

Members of local Jewish youth group Beit Sefer Sunna Schane, Gracie Snyder, Sadie Curtis and Isaac Kirsch make Hamantaschen, a traditional holiday treat, ahead of Purim. (Courtesy Photo | Congregation Sukkat Shalom)

Members of local Jewish youth group Beit Sefer Sunna Schane, Gracie Snyder, Sadie Curtis and Isaac Kirsch make Hamantaschen, a traditional holiday treat, ahead of Purim. (Courtesy Photo | Congregation Sukkat Shalom)

Dreifus said the story behind the holiday is an odd one for a religious text as it makes no explicit reference to God, and the heroine of the story is Esther, a woman.

The story goes that the king of Persia commanded his wife to dance for him, she refused and was subsequently replaced by Esther, who hid her Judaism. All was relatively well until Haman, a vizier to the king, commanded Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, to bow before him.

“He refuses, because Jews traditionally don’t bow to anyone but God,” Dreifus said. “Haman gets really mad because I guess he was a little insecure or something, and he issues an order to kill all of the Jews.”

Ultimately, Esther summons courage to reveal to the king she is Jewish. The king sides with with Esther, Haman is killed, and the Jewish people survive.

That holiday draws its name from a translation of the word lots, because Haman drew lots to decide when he would carry out his plan, Dreifus said.

Esther obscuring her identity is the reason costumes are part of the celebration.

“There’s no particular costume that is worn,” Dreifus said. “One year I went as Mickey Mouse.”

The story also informs the traditional baked goods that go along with Purim.

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Hamantaschen translates from Yiddish to Haman’s pockets. Despite the name, Dreifus said they have three corners because Haman wore a three-cornered hat.

Hamantaschen are a traditional cookie associated with the holiday Purim, which this year is celebrated Wednesday, March 20 and Thursday, March 21. (Courtesy Photo | Congregation Sukkat Shalom)

Hamantaschen are a traditional cookie associated with the holiday Purim, which this year is celebrated Wednesday, March 20 and Thursday, March 21. (Courtesy Photo | Congregation Sukkat Shalom)

“The best part is this holiday has its own special cookie,” Dreifus said. “I think to fill them with anything other than chocolate is a travesty, but they’re filled with generally either chocolate or poppy seed or like fruit jellies. There are just things over the centuries that have developed to make the holiday more fun for kids.”

Granny’s Hamantaschen Recipe courtesy of Chef Stef

• 3/4 cup of oil

• 1 cup of sugar

• 3 eggs

• 3 1/2 cups of flour

• 3 teaspoons of baking powder

• 1/3 cup of orange juice.

First, cream the oil, sugar, and eggs.

Then, mix the flour and baking powder together in a bowl, add to the wet ingredients, and add orange juice to the mixture.

Turn out the entire mixture onto the counter and lightly knead it into a ball. Cover it with plastic and refrigerate at least one hour.

Next, divide the ball into four parts, refrigerating the parts you’re not currently using. Roll out each ball to about a 1/4- inch thickness and use a round pastry cutter to form the cookie base.

Fill the center with a tablespoon of filling and draw in three equal-distance edges towards the center, to form a tri-corner shape and lightly pinch each corner.

Then it’s time bake the Hamantaschen for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


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