Emory Professor Miriam Udel Shares Stories About The Jewish Holiday Purim

Hamantaschen are triangular pocket-filled cookies enjoyed on the Jewish holiday of Purim.

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Miriam Udel is an associate professor in German Studies and Tam Institute of Jewish Studies at Emory University. She’s also the author of “Honey on the Page,” an anthology of children’s literature. She joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to speak about stories for Purim, a Jewish holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman.

Interview Highlights:

Miriam Udel is an associate professor at Emory University. (Courtesy of Miriam Udel)

The Story of Purim

“This is a story that is recounted in the scroll of Esther, which is part of the later books of the Bible. It is a story of a genocidal plot that is very narrowly averted when a foolish king falls under the influence of a wicked advisor, who wants to exterminate the Jews in the large kingdom of Persia. It is through the bravery and wisdom of a young Jewish woman named Esther working and taking some advice from her uncle Mordecai that she is able to foil this plot and save the Jewish people.”

Why Purim is special for children

“Purim really has become very much a children’s holiday. It now serves as a dress-up holiday, somewhat kin to Halloween in the United States. This is a somewhat new phenomenon, but Purim has always been about the sharing of food, and fellowship. One of the core activities on Purim is enjoying a really lavish, festival meal. The rabbis actually viewed that as a requirement or obligation. If people are going to be obligated to make this festival meal, then it also needed to become obligatory to ensure that everybody could enjoy that meal,” said Udel.

She continued, “So, charitable giving becomes one of the major themes of Purim. Being able to involve children in those acts of generosity and making sure everyone has access to a celebratory feast … that became the core principles of the day.”