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Fort Myers Rabbi Explains Purim, the So-Called 'Jewish Halloween'

Rebecca Siegel
Hamantaschen cookies filled with various fillings for Purim

Wednesday night marked the start of Purim. WGCU's Rachel Iacovone spoke with Rabbi Nicole Luna of Temple Beth-Elin Fort Myers ahead of the holiday celebrating the story of Esther.

Luna: The story starts with the king of Persia in modern day Iran. King Achashverosh is looking for a new queen, and he chooses Esther but doesn't know that she is Jewish. And, the evil villain of the story is the egotistical and power-hungry advisor to the king, named Haman. And, he demands that everybody in Persia bow down to him, but Queen Esther's cousin, Mordecai, refuses to bow down as a Jew. And, Haman becomes furious and goes to the king and convinces the King to enact his plot to kill all the Jews. Now, when Mordecai hears this, he goes to Queen Esther and tells her that she has to go to the king to plead for her people. This is actually a dangerous idea because no one was allowed to go to the king without being summoned. They could be put to death. So, Purim celebrates Queen Esther's bravery and courage and standing up against this injustice, going to the king revealing that she is Jewish and, ultimately, saving her people.

Iacovone: When did Purim become a holiday to celebrate in that moment, the second that they were saved, or later in history?

Luna: The Book of Esther in our Hebrew Bible ends with instructions about celebrating this moment of survival and continuing it for all generations.

Iacovone: I've heard it called the Jewish Halloween before, so for people who have not heard of it, how is the celebrated?

Luna: Purim is a very joyous holiday. It's a day of survival, but it's really a day that we celebrate who we are. So, we read the story of Esther, and we do dress up in costume, reminding us of how Esther masked her identity to the king and then revealed herself. And, we boo when we hear the name of Haman; we stomp our feet, and it's a day of rejoicing. We are commanded to enjoy a festive meal, to give gifts to our friends, to give charity to the poor and to live out our Jewish values.

This excerpt was part of a larger conversation on WGCU's Gulf Coast Live. Listen to it in its entirety here.

Rachel Iacovone is a reporter and associate producer of Gulf Coast Live for WGCU News. Rachel came to WGCU as an intern in 2016, during the presidential race. She went on to cover Florida Gulf Coast University students at President Donald Trump's inauguration on Capitol Hill and Southwest Floridians in attendance at the following day's Women's March on Washington.Rachel was first contacted by WGCU when she was managing editor of FGCU's student-run media group, Eagle News. She helped take Eagle News from a weekly newspaper to a daily online publication with TV and radio branches within two years, winning the 2016 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award for Best Use of Multimedia in a cross-platform series she led for National Coming Out Day. She also won the Mark of Excellence Award for Feature Writing for her five-month coverage of an FGCU student's transition from male to female.As a WGCU reporter, she produced the first radio story in WGCU's Curious Gulf Coast project, which answered the question: Does SWFL Have More Cases of Pediatric Cancer?Rachel graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.