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A brave friend: Jewish festival of Purim

To think about what it means to speak out against something that is wrong, through the story and celebration of the Jewish festival of Purim.

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Key Stage 1

Aims

To think about what it means to speak out against something that is wrong, through the story and celebration of the Jewish festival of Purim.

Preparation and materials

  • A crown.
  • Familiarization with the story of Esther. 

Assembly

  1. Put on the crown.

    Would you like to be a king or queen? Discuss ‘the perks of the job’ with the children.
  2. Tell the following story:

    Today’s story is about a very beautiful queen who lived many years ago. Esther was not born into a famous, royal family. In fact she was just an orphan girl who lived quietly with her uncle – a kind and wise man called Mordecai.

    One day the king of Persia went looking for a wife and Esther was chosen. In those days the king was very powerful and you daren’t displease him or it might be, ‘Off with her head!’ So Esther didn’t have much choice about leaving her simple life and moving in to the palace.

    ‘You will be fine,’ said her uncle, Mordecai. ‘You are a kind and clever girl. You will make friends easily, and the palace workers will teach you all you need to know.’

    It was true. Everyone liked Esther. The servants taught her all about looking after her skin, what perfume suited her, how to dress nicely and probably how to address the king: ‘Your majesty’, followed by a big, deep curtsey!

    Mordecai was allowed to move into the palace court too, and was given an important job to do.

    ‘Just don’t let the king know that you are a Jew,’ Mordecai warned.

    At that time many Jewish people were refugees in Persia. Sadly many Persians didn’t like Jews because they kept themselves apart and would follow their own customs and would not worship the Persian gods.

    Mordecai served the king well, and it wasn’t long before he had a special commendation from the king for his good service. But one day, something awful happened. A new chief minister, Haman, was appointed – a nasty character who hated the Jewish people. The king liked Haman and before long a new rule was introduced, requiring that people should bow down to Haman when they saw him!

    Of course, this was going to cause a big problem for the Jews . . . and Haman knew it. Their law said that God was the only one to whom they should bow down.

    ‘Aha,’ thought Haman, ‘I’ll catch out old Mordecai and his people with this one!’

    A few days later Haman approached the king with this news.

    ‘My Lord,’ he said sneakily, ‘I reckon that anyone who does not obey this command of yours should be killed. The Jews refuse to bow down to you. Something about their God being greater than you. What do you want done?’

    ‘Round them all up on Saturday and kill them,’ ordered the angry king.

    When Mordecai heard the news he was very distressed. He sent word to Esther.

    ‘I can’t see any way out of this, but perhaps you have been given this royal position for such a time as this.’

    ‘That might be true,’ thought Esther hopefully, but she knew that she was only a young woman. It was God’s help they were going to need. She sent a messenger to Mordecai.

    ‘Gather all the Jews together and tell them not to eat or drink for three days, while they pray to God. I will do the same and after that I will go and see the king.’

    Now it was not the custom for the queen to just barge in and talk to the king when she felt like it. If he was in a bad mood (and Esther knew that he often was), he could quite easily think ‘what a cheek!’ and have her dismissed. But Esther and all her people spent three days praying for God’s help, and when she did ask to see the king he was very pleased to receive her.

    ‘You are looking very beautiful tonight my dear,’ he said. ‘Tell me what is it that you want? Your beauty pleases me so much that I would even give you half of my kingdom.’

    Esther took a deep breath and with great courage said,


    ‘My Lord, please spare my life and that of my people because we are going to be killed.’

    The king was very shocked. Esther told him that she, her uncle and her people were Jews. Haman was planning to have Mordecai killed the next day. The king looked at the worried face of his beautiful, brave young queen and he remembered what a good servant Mordecai had always been. He became very angry. Not with Esther, fortunately, but with the bully Haman who had tricked him. He ordered that Haman be taken away and punished, and he overruled his earlier plan. The Jews were safe.

  3. Today the Jewish people still celebrate this time, and Esther’s bravery is remembered at the festival of Purim.

Time for reflection

Esther was very comfortable in the royal palace. She was quite safe because the king loved her. But she knew that her people were not in the same position. They were being bullied and it could cost them their death. Could she do anything?

It took great courage for Esther to go in and speak to the king and to stand up for her people. Haman was the chief minister, and a very crafty man. Nobody likes to stand up against bullies, especially when they seem so powerful.

Have you ever seen someone being treated badly?

Perhaps, just as Esther was given her position in the palace ‘for such a time as this’, so have you.

Have you seen someone being badly treated? Will you be brave like Esther and stand up for what is right?

Prayer
Dear God,
Thank you for saving your people in this story.
Thank you that when Esther and her people cried out for help you answered them.
Help me to have courage like Esther when I see something bad happening to another person.
Amen.

Song/music

‘Father, hear the prayer we offer’ (Come and Praise, 48)
‘Kum ba yah’ (Come and Praise, 68)

Publication date: March 2011   (Vol.13 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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