Once in a Purim
Dr. Ronald A. Brauner
Quite possibly, you've heard the expression, often in Yiddish (
einmohl a poorim) - "once in a Purim" - an expression intended to convey something of the notion of the rarity of an event, the infrequent (and perhaps, unanticipated) occurrence of some moment or occasion. To be sure, in our tradition, Purim has always represented a time of mirth, of levity and, you might even say, of triumph. Who among us does not remember the masks, the costumes, the hamantashen, the carnivals and all the other trappings of one of the significant fun times of our Sunday School and Hebrew School youth? For how many years did we hear again and again the story of Mordecai, Esther, Ahashueros and Haman (boo!) - the colorful tale of danger and intrigue, of beauty contests and royal favor and Jew-hating evil and ultimate Jewish victory? And then, we began to grow up and, to tell the truth, to grow beyond the stories of our youth...perhaps to revisit them through our children and grandchildren but, really, to grow beyond the simplicity of these age-old stories.
Something interesting, and wonderful, happens though, when, in one's maturity, another look is taken and a bit of sincere contemplation is offered for those things we haven't had occasion to think about for a long time. Every so often an idea comes to mind and, as it were, helps make some sense out of what we thought senseless. We learn, for instance that there are
many Purims in Jewish life (the Purim of Florence, Purim de la Señora, Purim of Cairo, Purim de los Christianos and Plum-jam Purim, to name a few) and that we Jews have had a historical penchant for commemorating and remembering significant events in our lives. All the Purims mentioned above ( and there are many, many more) commemorate the salvation of a Jewish community, the cessation of disaster or the rescue of a family from life-threatening calamity - in all instances, the escape from harm and death to relief and salvation were marked with celebration and rejoicing and, in all instances, the celebrants wanted to make sure that future generations would not forget what had happened. This has led me to reconsider the meaning of the phrase "once in a Purim" - a phrase I had heard from my grandparents but never really understood. If anything, I was sure the phrase pointed to the rarity of an occurrence and it never dawned on me that beneath it all, something much more significant, much more substantial was to be found...the fact is that Purim does come much more frequently than once a year but the question is whether or not we know it! I think there are many Purims in our lives but all too often, we do not take the time to contemplate and celebrate them. On the personal level, on the communal level, on the Jewish people level. Like miracles, the question is not whether they happen anymore but rather whether we can see them.

©1998, Foundation for Jewish Studies, Inc.