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An artful haggadah

New Orleans Purim

The moon is waxing; Purim will be upon us soon, beginning on Monday evening when the sun goes down. In honor of the coming festival, I want to point folks toward an essay that offers a fairly unique perspective on Purim: the view from New Orleans.

Though Mardi Gras, like Halloween, has become a thoroughly American holiday, I like to think of it as Catholic Purim, especially this year, when the holiday falls between the full moon of Tu B'shevat-- the Jewish New Year for Trees--and the full moon of Purim. Both Purim and Mardi Gras involve masking, both celebrate turning the world upside down, both encourage inebriation: The two holidays are in many ways soulmates.

That's from Mardi Purim, an essay by Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus (among many other titles) who blogs at talkingdream.

As you might imagine, Purim in New Orleans is like nothing else. Rabbi David Bockman used to lead a Purim service at the old Chevra Tehillim synagogue, which included a stuffed gorilla on a string, flashing lights and sirens, and at appropriate moments, a traditional New Orleans marching band, complete with caps and uniforms and doubloons marked "Krewe of Tzedekah." (A krewe is a Mardi Gras marching club, and tzedakah is Hebrew for charity; there's that cultural gumbo again...)

The essay was written, he says, a few years ago -- 2002, maybe. That its provenance is pre-Katrina is evident; I imagine if he were writing the essay today he would mention what changes the events of last fall have wrought. Still, the piece doesn't feel dated. Mardi Gras happened this year in New Orleans despite the ravages of the hurricane -- I imagine Purim will be celebrated there, too. Anyway, the essay is good stuff; read it here.

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