Hebrew Hear-Say: A funny and peculiar people

I love Hanukka. It's one of those holidays which even the nonreligious celebrate in Israel. There's good (if fattening) food. An action-packed story accompanied by popular songs. And good reason to recite the blessing: she'asa nissim la'avoteinu bayamim hahem bazman hazeh, Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time (of the year). Okay, there's one good reason not to celebrate Hanukka in this column: Purim might not hold a candle to Hanukka when it comes to the length of the celebration, but with its purimspiels (jokes and parodies) it provides light relief in the spring. To sum up the gantza megilla (the whole big fuss - another Yiddish term difficult to translate into either English or Hebrew), like so many other Jewish holidays, Purim falls into the category of "Eat, drink and be merry, for yesteryear we didn't die." On Purim, nothing is as it seems. And it's a nightmare for the politically correct. Take its antiheroine, for example: Vashti puts her foot down, refuses to dance at the king's ball and is banished or at least disappears from our story. Meanwhile, Esther marries the gentile monarch and becomes such a popular figure that her name, probably a corruption of Astarte, is passed down among generations of modest Jewish women, raised in the belief that kvod bat melech pnima, "the beauty of the king's daughter is within." In Israel, Purim is a particularly strange time: The merrymaking has often been overshadowed by terrorism (and one year by Baruch Goldstein's massacre) but still kids - and adults - all over the country can be seen all dressed up with somewhere to go: Purim parties and adloyada parades. After all, if you can't dress to suit yourself on Purim, when can you? Unfortunately, there are also the party poopers who insist on setting off firecrackers (napatzim) - more criminal than annoying in a country where loud bangs are bad news. Still, we have good reason to celebrate. You can mark Purim anywhere in the world, but to really appreciate its message of Jewish survival against all the odds (hisardut neged kol hasikuyim), you need to be in the Jewish state. This year, with the shadow of missiles again casting a pall, it seems literally vital (hiyuni) to celebrate the holiday in style with the Purim traditions of dressing up, giving gifts of food, donating charity to the poor, and above all blotting out the name of Haman. The food most associated with the holiday are those triangular-shaped pastries which don't really have a name in English but are known in the Diaspora as hamentashen (Haman's pockets) and in Israel as oznei Haman (Haman's ears): Given the ghosts of Purim past, maybe we should issue an alert about a blood libel (alilat dam) straight away. It is a commandment on Purim to drink until we "no longer know the difference" (adloyada) between the villainous Haman and heroic Uncle Mordecai. I'll drink to that. When Haman's demonic plans were frustrated he was left dangling at a loose end on the same gallows he built for Mordecai's downfall. Not exactly a laugh a minute, but you can't help but wonder where would the Jewish people be today if the Book of Esther didn't have a "happy ending" (sof tov - although irritatingly Israelis often use the English words for the term). Suppose it wasn't the wicked Haman hanging on the tree but Uncle Mordecai? It's no laughing matter recalling the intentions of an ancient Persian to wipe us off the map. We are commanded to blot out Haman's name with noise whenever it is mentioned in the Book of Esther. We'd better frustrate the next despot's plans before they become legendary: Can you imagine the commotion necessary to drown out all the syllables in the name Ahmadinejad? He wants us to go with a (big) bang. We plan on continuing to celebrate in style and still have the last laugh (tzohek mi shetzohek aharon). If it doesn't rain - literally or metaphorically - on our Purim parades, we should be happy. And if it rains in such a dry year, we should definitely count our blessings. liat@jpost.com