A twist on a Jewish festival
Mexican-themed Purim celebrates deliverance from destruction

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Dovid Schiner, a practicing rabbi from Iowa, reads from the Megillat Esther during a Mexican-themed Purim celebration in Peoria on Sunday. The reading of the megilla is one of the four mitzvahs that are performed during Purim.
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Leonard Kaufman, of Peoria, holds a rattle during the reading of the megilla. Traditionally noisemakers are used to drown out the name of Haman, the villain in the book of Esther


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PEORIA — Rabbi Eli Langsam sported a sombrero and poncho on Sunday.

The Chabad Jewish Center of Peoria hosted a Mexican-themed celebration of the Jewish festival of Purim at Barracks Cater Inn, 1224 W. Pioneer Parkway, where more than 50 Jews gathered to hear the megillah read, listen to music and eat tray after tray of Mexican food.

"Every year we have a different theme to make it more exciting. It's important to do it in fun so everyone has a good time," Langsam said. "It was a scary time for Jews and thank God the tables turned."

Purim is the celebration of the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia about 2,500 years ago, when the vizier Haman ordered an annihilation of the Jews. He later abolished the decree by the request of the king's wife, Queen Esther.

"We want to celebrate this great miracle," Langsam said. "We have to learn what Esther did, especially since she didn't do it through warfare."

One of the most important parts of the celebration is to hear a 30-minute reading in Hebrew of the megillah, also known as the Book of Esther, which tells the salvation story.

Purim is celebrated by Jews nationwide, with many of them dressing in costumes to conceal themselves because God's name is never mentioned in the megillah.

"We dress up because God's name is not written there," Langsam said. "It's concealed."

Every time Haman's name is mentioned during the reading, Jews make as much noise as possible, shaking rattles and groggers, to drown out his name and omit it from the text.

"When I give the signal and Haman's name is about to be mentioned, we must make as much noise as possible," Langsam told the crowd before the reading. "We must erase the name."

Thanks to this year's theme, the noisemaking also consisted of pinata smashing. Every time the crowd erupted to erase Haman's name, a pair of children got to take a few whacks at pinatas. The name had to be mentioned several times per pinata, but eventually the children were rewarded with candy spewing in all directions.

"That's just something we did to try to make it exciting," Langsam said.

 Tyler Maritote can be reached at 686-3251 or [email protected].