For tonight we'll merry merry be
Yee-hah! Sound the graggers! Wear the costumes! Eat the hamentaschen! Be the silly!
There was a big thing at our synagogue tonight, but we didn't go. It gets kind of crazy, and I'm sick, and we're all pretty beat. Instead, MG opened up the package which arrived today from Savta: an entire set of Purim finger puppets! AND a set of three Purim-character masks. The perfect present for our girl. MG assigned parts and we acted it out as a finger-puppet play. Naturally, she snagged the part of Brave Queen Esther. Renaissance Woman was the wise and virtuous cousin Mordecai, and guess who got to play the wicked Haman [booooo!]?
Well, it is a juicy role. I doubled as the dopey King and had a good time with it.
One thing I've noticed about Purim these days, even the version MG learned at Hebrew school: it's been totally cleaned up, with all references to death removed. Instead, wicked Haman's plans consist of vaguely "sending the Jews away," and when his scheme is foiled, he has to "go away" instead. In the real version, he plans to massacre the Jews, and hang Mordecai on the gallows, but instead he is hanged on that same gallows himself! Boo Haman! Yay Esther!
Even the songs have been changed. Check it out:
Here's the popular Purim song "Once There Was a Wicked Wicked Man," as I learned it in the dark days of the '70's.
Here's the version currently being bruited about. [warning: music will play!]
Okay, I can see how the original is kind of...bloodthirsty. More than I remembered, in fact. ("A little hanging party"? Sheesh!) And I understand not wanting to teach vengeance as a value, or scare little kids with tales of genocide narrowly averted (which is what Purim is, when you strip away the farcical court story).
But I was brought up short by the contrast. I mean, if the Jews are going to be killed, the stakes are so high! Of course Esther has to try to save them, even if she might die herself in the process! If they're just being, um, "sent away," the whole premise kind of sags. More niceness, less drama.
It made me think about fairy tales and traditional stories in general: is there a compromise between bloodthirsty and bloodless? And what about the authenticity factor: how much can you change a traditional story (Biblical or otherwise) before it's pointlessly distorted? Or is this phenomenon just part of the folk process in action? Maybe there's a time to tell a softened version, and a (later) time to tell the "real" version?
Where do you fall on the continuum? What old stories do you tell your kids, and how do you change them?