My youngest will listen to me read chapter after chapter from a grownup’s mystery novel (edited on the fly for content) but no longer wants to read Harry Potter. I sometimes bargain with him to let me read HP, and his interest picks up, but it’s never his go-to.
So the Purim spiel — the lighthearted Jewish play telling Esther’s story —might turn him off: our synagogue chose a Harry Potter theme for the spiel this year to make it more accessible to kids.
To jog your memory, Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther) tells of how Ahasuerus, King of Persia beginning ~486 BCE, dumps Vashti and selects Esther (a.k.a. Hadassah) as his new queen.
Esther listens to Mordecai, the virtuous cousin who raised her, and hides her Jewish identity and lineage (perhaps the inspiration for today’s Purim costumes).
Early in the story, Mordecai foils a plot to kill Ahasuerus; his good deed is noted but not yet rewarded. Later, the evil vizier Haman rises to power and takes offense that Mordecai won’t bow to him.
Discontent with punishing just Mordecai, Haman plans to wipe out all Persian Jews. He schemes, telling Ahasuerus that a “certain” unspecified people’s laws differ from the king’s and that they merit destruction accordingly.
Haman is the ultimate fearmonger stoking xenophobic action.
The unwitting king allows Haman to decree the death of all Jews, and Haman sets the date by casting lots (purim), then sends word to all of Persia.
When Mordecai discovers the decree, he informs Esther, and she risks her life to appear before the king, unbidden, to set a plan in motion.
Meanwhile, the king reviews his records and decides to reward Mordecai for saving his life.
Ahasuerus asks Haman to suggest a way to honor a good citizen, and Haman, thinking he is the honoree, proposes a showy affair. But the joke’s on Haman: he ends up resentfully honoring Mordecai in a public display. The decree still exists, though, so Esther must act.
A clever reveal at a banquet exposes Haman as the villain. Haman ends up swinging from the gallows he built for Mordecai, and messengers are sent out to counter the decree.
Whether a Potter fan or not, I hope my son finds the spiel fun. He’ll still get to shout “Boooooo!” to drown out Haman’s name. Because the spiel is largely for kids, it probably will end with Haman in Azkaban Prison, not dying.
Further, the theme is fitting: Haman exerts control through fearmongering.
The Dursleys, horrible Muggles (non-magic folk), fear wizards because they are different. On the wizarding side, Voldemort embraces xenophobia, working to eradicate Muggle-born wizards.
And (spoiler alert!) characters like Umbridge both act in fear of what they can’t understand and exert their power through fear.
In the end, both stories emphasize coexistence, and the good characters are loyal despite differences, as in Mordecai’s allegiance to Ahasuerus.
If nothing else, my son will enjoy eating hamantaschen, fruit-filled cookies shaped like Haman’s triangular hat. Apricot, please!
Susan A. Youngblood is a member of Congregation Beth Shalom and an associate professor of technical and professional communication in Auburn University’s Department of English