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Local Purim celebration recalls Jewish history

Rabbi Mendel Shemtov reads Book Esther Hebrew Sunday during Chabad Jewish Center's Purim celebratiwith traditional Jewish pastries available for guests.


Rabbi Mendel Shemtov reads the Book of Esther in Hebrew Sunday during Chabad Jewish Center's Purim celebration, with traditional Jewish pastries available for guests. Photo by Romi Herron for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 1, 2013 7:34AM

In keeping with Jewish tradition, Rabbi Mendel Shemtov read aloud the Book of Esther at Chabad of Elgin and Hoffman Estates on Sunday, where more than 40 adults and children gathered to celebrate Purim at Chabad Jewish Center.

The occasion, pronounced poo-reem, centers on the biblical story of Esther and her cousin Mordecai who are credited with saving the king’s life when Haman set out to kill him. As Shemtov read the story in Hebrew, the group interacted with the narrative by rattling noisemakers each time the evildoer’s name came up.

“Whenever we hear Haman’s name, we blot out his name by turning the noisemaker,” said guest Earl Sternfeld of Schaumburg.

In short, he explained, the biblical story unfolds with Haman and his servants plotting to kill the king, the ruler of 127 Persian provinces. In the end, the Jews unite and kill 75,000 of those who had been targeting them — and their king. To honor their victory, the holiday Purim was born.

“Esther and Mordecai said this is something we should keep throughout the ages,” Sternfeld said, describing the four customs associated with the holiday. “Give charity to the poor, read the Megillat (the Book of Esther), bring two prepared foods to another person, and also have a Purim.”

Enjoying the feast after the reading, Evelyn Harris of Huntley said she studies those and other stories at the Chabad’s Tuesday night classes. She described the rabbi and his wife, Shterna Sara Shemtov, as “extremely gracious and hospitable,” and said she looks forward to celebrating holy days at Chabad.

Harris said she admires Shterna Sara’s role at the Chabad, as she cooks the kosher celebratory meals herself and extends her hospitality to all who enter.

“That’s very traditional in Jewish culture,” Harris said.

For Sunday’s event, Shterna Sara prepared 12 home cooked dishes. Also offered were the Jewish pastry hamantaschen, shaped like a three-cornered hat and filled with chocolate or jelly.

Sternfeld said the treat symbolizes the hats worn by Haman and his men.

Kevin Pollack of Buffalo Grove has attended other holy day events at Chabad of Hoffman Estates but was unable to take part in Sunday’s Purim event. He said he holds fond memories of baking the hamantaschen with his grandmother and added that he experienced an outpouring of compassion at Chabad when he visited with his cousins and grandfather.

“In Hebrew school, I used to come up with the ideas for Purim parties. Purim is a big party,” said Pollack. “It’s a celebration. I always thought of it as the one time of year when people looked forward to coming. We had games and noisemakers everywhere.”

As part of the occasion, The Magic of Mike DiDomenico featured card tricks, fire breathing and sleight-of-hand illusions.

More information about Chabad Jewish Center, at 30W509 Shoe Factory Road, Elgin, is available at the organization’s website,

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