FESTIVAL OF PURIM
Date varies from year to year - please check the REonline Festivals Calendar
for Whole School or Class Assembly
(May need adapting for KS1)
To think about what it
means to speak out against something that is wrong.
Preparation and materials
- Background: The book of Esther in the Old Testament of
the Bible tells the story of how Queen Esther saved Jews in Persia from
extinction on a day chosen by purim (drawing lots). She risked her life by
pleading to the king (King Ahasuerus 486-65 BCE) after she discovered a plot by
Haman, his chief minister, to kill the Jews. The story is remembered every year
at the Jewish festival of Purim. Each time Haman is mentioned, special rattles
called greggers (like football rattles) are whirled around, or home-made
rattles are shaken, to drown out the sound of his name. Three-cornered poppy
seed cakes called hamantaschen (Haman's ears) are made and eaten.
If possible contact your local RE Resource Centre and borrow a gregger. Or you
can make your own (children may like to make theirs in advance and rattle them
during the story). To make the gregger, take a piece of paper and draw two
identical triangles with sides approximately 10 cm long. Cut them out and glue
along the three edges of one of the triangles. Put approximately a teaspoonful
of dried rice or lentils in the middle of the glued paper. Put the other
triangle of paper on top and seal the glued edges. When dry, this will make a
good rattle which can be shaken every time that Haman's name is mentioned in
the story. (The rattle is triangular in shape to resemble the shape of the
traditional poppy-seed cakes which are eaten at Purim.)
- You will also
need a candle.
- Invite the children to look at
the people sitting next to them. Then ask them to turn their heads and look at
the people sitting behind. Can they see the people right at the back? Perhaps
some of the people around them are friends who might have been at school with
them for a long time. Perhaps one of them is a brother or sister.
invite the children to turn and face the front. Imagine that a line is drawn
down the middle of the room (point and show where the imaginary line might go).
Now imagine that all the people on the left of the line had to leave the room
and would will never be seen again. Ask the children to imagine how they would
feel. Would they try and stop their friends leaving? Would they say anything?
- Explain that this is like the
choice faced by Queen Esther in today's story. She was a Jew and she discovered
a plan where, on a certain day, all her people would be taken away and killed.
They would never be seen again. The plan was made by a man called Haman.
Every year at this time, Jews tell the story of Queen Esther and her
bravery in trying to stop Haman carrying out the plan. Go on to say that each
time the name of Haman is mentioned in the story, rattles are shaken and people
boo and stamp their feet, to try and literally stamp out or drown the sound of
the wicked man's name.
Invite the children to listen carefully to the
story which follows and to shake their own paper rattles when they hear Haman's
name. You might like to explain that the rattles they have made are the same
shape as cakes that are eaten at this time of year called hamantaschen, which
are sometimes known as Haman's ears or pockets.
You will probably need
to establish a clear stopping signal for this noisy activity and practise it a
couple of times!
- Tell the story (allowing time for
a response after each mention of Haman's name):
Esther lived a long,
long time ago in a country called Persia, which we now know as Iran. Esther was
a Jew and she was known for her beauty and her cleverness. But she was also an
orphan and from a young age she had been looked after by a relative called
Mordecai. He was a kind and wise man.
One day the King of Persia went
looking for a wife and Esther was chosen, because of her great beauty and her
cleverness. But Mordecai told her not to let the king know that she was a Jew
because the Jews in Persia were refugees. They were not liked by the Persians
because they kept themselves apart and would follow their own customs, and
would not worship the Persian gods.
Mordecai came with Esther to the
king's court and he was given an important job there. One day he heard two
people planning to kill the king. Mordecai told Esther and Esther warned the
king. The two men were arrested and Mordecai's name was written down in the
great palace records to show that he had saved the king's life.
went by and a chief minister was appointed in the palace. His name was Haman
(shake rattles and stamp). The king gave Haman (shake rattles) a job to do. He
was to tell everyone in the palace that when the king passed by, they should
bow down to the ground, to show how important the king was. Haman gave the
command. And when the king passed by everyone bowed down.
that is, except Mordecai. He wouldn't bow down to the king. This made Haman
furious and he decided to get his own back on Mordecai and his people, the
Jews. Haman went to the king and told him that the Jews would not obey the laws
of the land, and that they were trouble-makers. 'Therefore', Haman said, 'since
they disobey your majesty, they must be killed and their possessions taken from
The king agreed and gave the order that on a certain day all the
Jews were to be rounded up and killed. Of course, Esther, being the queen, was
at the king's side when he gave the command. What was she to do? If she told
the king that she was Jew, then she would be killed. But, if she used her
influence as queen, she could change the king's mind and save her people.
Perhaps her wise and kind guardian, Mordecai, would know what to do. So she
sent a messenger to find him.
The messenger found Mordecai in the
square outside the king's gate. He was dressed in rags and with ashes on his
head as a sign of sorrow at the king's terrible order. This is the reply that
he gave to Esther: 'Who knows, but perhaps you have been given a royal position
for just such a time as this?'
When Esther heard Mordecai's message,
she thought about it deeply. 'Yes,' she thought, 'perhaps this is the reason
why I have been made queen, so that I can save my people.' And so she sent
another message to Mordecai. It read, 'Gather all the Jews together and tell
them not to eat or drink for three days. I will do the same and after that I
will go and speak to the king. And if I die, I die.'
Three days later,
she put on her most beautiful robes and went to the king. When he saw her he
welcomed her. 'What do you want, Queen Esther?' he asked.
'I want you
to come to a banquet tonight,' she said, 'and I will tell you.'
night a wonderful banquet was prepared. 'Now tell me what it is you want,' the
king said to Esther while they were feasting.
'If it pleases the king,'
Esther said, 'come to another banquet tomorrow, and bring Haman with you.'
'Indeed I will,' said the king, who was really curious now about
Esther's request. When Haman heard about the invitation, he was delighted,
thinking that he was going to be given an even more important job in the
But on his way home he saw Mordecai at the king's gate.
Mordecai showed no fear at the sight of Haman and this made Haman furious. He
went home to his wife and friends. He couldn't help boasting about his wealth,
his many sons, the way that the king had favoured him, and that he was the only
one that Esther had invited to her special party for the king. 'But all of this
gives me no pleasure,' he said angrily, 'when I see Mordecai sitting at the
'That's easy,' said Haman's wife and friends. 'Have a
tall gallows made and have Mordecai hung on it. You can ask the king's
permission in the morning, and then you can go to Esther's banquet.'
'That's a great plan,' said Haman, with a wicked smile on his face, and
he had the gallows built.
But that night the king could not sleep. He
had the great palace records brought to him. There he read about the way
Mordecai had saved his life long ago, when Mordecai had discovered the plan to
kill the king. 'Has this man Mordecai been rewarded?' asked the king. 'Nothing
has been done to reward him,' said his servants.
The next morning when
Haman entered the palace, the king said to him, 'Find a royal robe that I have
worn and a horse that I have ridden.'
'Ah,' thought Haman, 'the king is
going to reward me for my loyalty and good service.'
'Then,' said the
king, 'go and give these rewards to Mordecai the Jew.'
Haman was furious, but he dared not disobey the king, so he took the robe and
the horse and, with a furious look on his face, he gave them to Mordecai. Then
Haman stormed back to the palace. 'At least I have Esther's banquet to look
forward to,' he thought.
At last it was time for the second great
banquet and the king and Haman went to feast with Queen Esther. While they were
eating, the king said to Esther, 'Tell me, my love, what it is that you want
from me. Whatever it is, I will give it to you, even if it is half my kingdom.'
Then Esther took a big breath and with great courage she said, 'My
Lord, if I have pleased you, then give me my life and save the lives of my
people, because we are going to be killed.'
'Who is the man who has
done this?' Then Esther looked towards Haman, who had turned pale and begun to
tremble. 'My enemy, Haman,' she said.
Then Haman got down on his knees
and begged the queen for forgiveness, but it was too late. The king made
another command and Haman was taken away to meet the same punishment that Haman
had planned for Mordecai.
After that, there was great happiness among
the Jews because they had been saved from death. From that time onwards, and
today, Esther's bravery is remembered at the festival of Purim.
on the themes
Mordecai, Esther's uncle, said that
perhaps Queen Esther had become queen for 'just such a time as this' (Esther
4.14). In other words, occasionally a moment comes when we have a chance to do
something important to change things.
Talk about this with the
children. Have they ever felt that they could change things if they acted in a
particular way? For example, choosing a right action when it was easier to do
something wrong, or nothing at all; helping someone who no one else would help;
sticking up for someone who no one else liked. How hard was it to make that
decision? Did anyone help them to make the decision? Were they able to talk to
anybody about the situation?
Light the candle and invite the children
to keep a time of quiet. Ask them to think about a situation when they could
make a difference to the life of someone. Invite them to make this their prayer
if they would like to.
God of all,
Sometimes it's easier to stay quiet
and not speak up when we know something is wrong.
Thank you for brave
like Esther, who speak up to help others.
Give us courage to
change the things we know that are wrong.