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Hamantashen, Rahmentashen, noise about Purim in Chicago

Purim groggers

“Groggers” or noisemakers are used to drown out the bad guy's name when the Purim story is recounted.

St. Patrick’s DaySt. Joseph’s Day … what’s next?

If you said National Corndog Day, you’d be right … but it just goes to show that Purim doesn’t get any respect.

Sunset tomorrow marks the start of Purim, the annual celebration of yet another occasion when somebody tried but didn’t quite succeed in wiping out the Jews — in this case a Persian tyrant in about 360 B.C.

Because the Purim story is filled with conspiracies, it’s traditional to eat foods with hidden fillings, such as kreplach (dumplings) and hamantashan (“Haman’s pockets”), triangular pastries or cookies filled with fruit or poppyseeds. The originals were likely based on mohntashen (“poppyseed pockets”) and some punning Old World baker capitalized on the name.

In Israel, Purim is a boisterous Mardi Gras-like celebration, with costume parties, parades, the giving of mishloach manot (baskets of Purim goodies) to friends and the reciting of the Megillah (the Purim story) during which the name of the principal villain, Haman, is drowned out by noisemakers like the “groggers” depicted above.

There’s also lots of drinking, Purim being one of the few occasions on which the historically abstemious Jews let lose. An ancient Talmudist (who also happened to be a vintner) directed that one should drink on Purim until he can no longer distinguish between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordachai” (one of the good guys).

In Chicago, observation of Purim is comparatively staid, mainly confined to readings of the Megillah at synagogues and a few bakeries selling hamantashen. (We were rather surprised to see the website for Manny’s in the South Loop, arguably the city’s best-known Jewish deli, touting its St. Patrick’s Day menu with no mention of Purim at all.)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel Hamantashen Observation Deck Portrait by Dan Lacey

Mayor Rahm Emanuel Hamantashen Observation Deck Portrait by Dan Lacey

The one big event we found is KFAR Jewish Arts Center’s “Purim Noisemaker,” at 10 p.m tomorrow night (Saturday, March 19), at Reggies Music Joint on the Near South Side. The “noise’ will come from The Shtetlblasters, a Madison, Wis.-based band that veers between klezmer and electro-funk. Tickets are $10.

Attendees, the promoters say, will be served “Rahmentashen.”

It doesn’t do to think too hard about the symbolism there — or the segue from the mastication of pastry commemorating one of Judaism’s bitterest enemies to eating confections named for the first Jewish mayor of Chicago becomes a bit hard to swallow. The connection, however, also occurred to Minnesota painter and Conservative cartoonist Dan Lacey, who created the portrait at left depicting Mayor-to-be Rahm Emanuel with hamantashen on his head.