Object of the Month - March - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Object of the Month - March

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Portrait of Nelson Glueck

Edith Fishel (1923-1999), Ceramic Grager, USA, 1982. 23.12

The festival of Purim, which takes place in March this year, celebrates the continual resilience of the Jewish people.  Purim commemorates the story of Esther and is celebrated worldwide with the reading  of  the story or performing it in humorous renditions known as Purim shpiels.  The story of Purim takes place in Persia under the rule of King Ahashverosh. Ahashverosh banished his wife for disobeying him and he set up a pageant to find a new wife.  A Jewish man named Mordechai encouraged his cousin Esther to try and win the position of Queen, which she did.  Esther did not reveal to King Ahashverosh that she was Jewish.  Mordechai received notice from the King when he was instrumental in foiling an assassination attempt on Ahashverosh.  Meanwhile, the King’s advisor, Haman, has his own altercation with Mordechai when Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman in the street. Once Haman learned that Mordechai was Jewish, he decided to kill all of the Jews in Persia.  Mordechai alerted Queen Esther of Haman’s plan and she revealed her Jewish identity to King Ahashverosh and convinced him to stop the execution of the Jewish people.  
Haman is considered to be an evil character in Esther’s story, and it is tradition whenever his name is said during the Purim story, to make noise to drown out his name.  One object that is used to make noise is a grager (pronounced grogger). Gragers can take different forms. A unique grager in the collection of the Cincinnati Skirball Museum is ceramic, rather than the more typical metal, wood, or plastic. This grager’s unusual triangular shape is modelled after a traditional Purim pastry known as a hamantaschen.  Hamantaschen are filled with fruit preserves, chocolate, or poppy seeds and the shape is said to reflect Haman’s three-cornered hat.  The Skirball grager features a cream-colored glaze with deep red accents to represent the fruit filling. Inside the ceramic body are small beads that make noise when the grager is shaken.