The Hammies

After the noise-makers are passed around at the Purim celebration, it’s time for the business of the evening: the “Hammy Awards,” a spoof of the Academy Awards where winners are given a “Hammy” in place of an Oscar. It’s a poke at Haman who hoped to kill the Jews in his kingdom, transforming a solemn topic with fun.

The Master of Ceremonies is a rabbinical student with wheat stalks glued to his t-shirt. He announces the category for “Best Queen.” He reads, very seriously, “…and the nominees are: Queen Elizabeth…Queen Latifah…the rock band Queen…Queen Esther for saving the Jews. And the winner is…” he pauses for dramatic effect, “Queen Esther!”  The crowd goes wild. Noise makers in the air, feet stomping the floor, rabbi chugging beer. A beautiful young woman dressed in robes and a gold chain across her forehead makes her way to the front of the room. She graciously accepts her award, which is a shellacked hamantash pastry spray-painted gold. Mordecai wins for “Best supporting Jew.”

As I left the synagogue that night, I felt giddy and a little baffled. Since Rosh Hashanah, I had been cataloging my sins and adopting the appropriate attitude of remorseful sorrow. I had prepared myself mentally for this very serious mission, one that would culminate in several weeks with Passover, when Jews remember being freed from slavery and the promises they made to God. I had not anticipated my very first stop would be a raucous party-like celebration. I did not realize Jews had a holiday where the point is to be loud and dress up and get drunk if you want to. It reminded me of the Catholic tradition of Carnival or Mardi Gras, the wild public partying before the somber season of Lent. Some historians suggest that Purim and pre-Lenten celebrations developed in tandem as a result of Christian and Jews living for hundreds of years in proximity. They seem to capture parallel moods: a burst of joy before the dutiful weeks leading to Easter or Passover. Regardless of religion, it seems to be human nature to crave levity—a joyful respite in the midst of a serious journey.

I have my eye on the door of the restaurant because I’m nervous about Nina showing up. But as soon as I see her, I know it won’t be like that. She’s all of five feet, but she might as well be the biggest person in the room from the size of the smile on her face. We hug, and I am flooded with relief. After tonight I’ll email her and hopefully set up a get-together with just the two of us to catch up on the more serious aspects of the time we’ve lost. But when I see her I know this evening isn’t for that. We laugh and swap lighthearted stories. I relax and focus on how good this is—how wonderful to be reunited with Lisa and Nina. I’ve struggled with moving past my feelings of fear and guilt to carve out enough space where a sense of thankfulness and joy might flourish. Life is its own serious journey, and these moments of fun can help grow gratitude—if you let them. Tonight I’m just plain appreciative for my old friends—people who know firsthand the terrible mistakes I’m capable of and smile when they see me anyway.

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13 thoughts on “The Hammies

  1. It makes me smile to know that you have reconnected so beautifully with your friends. And that they love you AND any and all warts…..which is, of course, the best definition of friendship. Enjoy.

    PS: I am still struggling with the image of a beer guzzling rabbi. !! 🙂

      • One of the hardest parts of making the transition from Roman Catholicism to Episcopalian was wrapping my head around married priests. Being unmarried and in a rectory made Catholic priests seem somehow other-worldly. It took some getting used to listen to our Episcopal priests belly-ache about broken pipes, kids going to college, and all the other real-world experiences the rest of us live with every day. But it also made them much easier to talk to and take advice from. And our former rector was quite a beer coinsurer (he’d never be caught dead within a mile of Brew 102)!

  2. That “awards ceremony” is a hoot! And I can relate to being a bit baffled by the raucous hilarity. We just don’t expect that much fun in religion, it seems like such a serious business. I think the Jews have the right idea though. Our spirituality should be so integrated with our lives, not just a Sunday thing or a holiday thing. My experience of christianity was that it did not encourage raucous hilarity, which put it at odds with my “real” life and strengthened the erroneous notion that there were separate compartments in my life. I could be generalizing here, but it seems the Jews internalize their history until it’s all mingled together with their spirituality and becomes their identity?

    I’m so glad, Corinna, that you have connected with Lisa and Nina again. I have noticed that for most people, slights and affronts lose their sharpness over time, and what’s remembered is the warmth of good memories. That makes it easier to ask forgiveness and to forgive and to move on.

    • Shelley, you raise a good point. Too many people, especially in the more traditional denominations, mistake solemn for somber. Thee is so much emphasis on conducting a “dignified” service, they forget why they’re there in the first place. I keep flashing on Chronicles, when David brings the Ark into Jerusalem for the first time. He is dancing and singing so joyfully, his wife tells him he’s making a fool of himself. But he doesn’t care. I think we need a little more of that attitude in modern religion.

      • I agree, Tim. I think some people might consider joy a frivolous or superficial feeling, but I think it takes hard work and great compassion (for oneself and others) to get to a true place of joy. It might even be the most challenging task any of us will face.

  3. I am going off in a different direction here…..what a surprise, huh? Anyway, last week when Giinger suggested that I go off and read the story of Esther, I did so, finding a site that was connected to the Jewish faith. In that storyteller’s version, Mordechai was typified as arrogant and egotistical. After I wrote some comments about this story, Aaron came back with a bit of a different read on Haman, calling him a megalomaniac……a much more discrediting and harsh word, I would say. He also used the word treacherous. Since then, I have been thinking a great deal about the power of the storyteller.

    Story tellers—be they historians, radio or TV reporters, prophets, comics, or regular folks, etc.—-make many choices. They embellish, enhance, omit, off-focus, misdirect, bend truths, choose one word over the other, dramatize or diminish……all to make the story tell their version. To make the point that they want to make. All you have to do is watch the major news networks–CNN, BBC, Fox, MSNBC—you get the idea. I can see where this happens in the Bible, also. There is no way, of course, to verify the objectivity of the stories, but I can’t believe that they are any different than what we have today. The story of Esther is told from the Jewish perspective, I believe, but I don’t think that this was the only version available. I know that I may have twisted details that you may believe to be true/ Right. Remember, that is what storytellers do! And there is no need to rush to Esther’s defense or to further vilify Haman. This is just a different possible idea. I would like to call this “The Power of the Storyteller.”

    Another possible version: Esther was a beautiful young woman who had caught the eye of the Persian King. He calls her to come be with him, and she goes. She is not only exotiotically beautiful, but she is also clever and cunning. She does not reveal that she is Jewish, but realizes that her alliance with the King might play to her advantage at some point. And this did come to pass…all too soon. Mordachai, one of Esther’s uncles, is a man who refuses to follow the rules of the kingdom… one might call him civilly disobedient, I guess. So along comes Haman, a zealous man, a civil servant, who is up and coming in the political field. He wants to catch the King’s eye himself, so as to be recognized as a valued advisor. He focuses his attention on Mordachai. and his kind, some of whom are also troublemakers………so when Mordachai refuses to pay homage to Haman, Haman sees it was a refusal to show respect for the King’s authority, and he decides to make a name for himself by executing Mordachai…..and, in turn, pleasing the King. That is the way the game is played, isn’t it?

    Esther cannot have this happen to her family, so she goes off to think and plan. She has to figure out a way for keep this execution from occurring. Esther goes back to King and using all of her feminine wiles, her clever abilities, and her exquisite beauty, she influences the King to see things her way. The King, wanting to please Esther, lets Mordachi off the hook. Esther, not wanting to have to deal with Haman, she manipulates the King into believing that it was Haman who was in the wrong, and that it should be Haman who is executed. And so he was…..and to accentuate this point and to further please Esther, the King also executes Haman’s sons, which is a relief to Esther as she doesn’t want them to grow up and avenge the death of their father.

    So the King and Esther forged an agreement. She becomes his Queen and the King? Well, truth be told, he becomes the husband of a very powerful woman….which provides great advantage for her people, just as she hoped it would. The End

    The Power of the Storyteller cuts across all parts of life. It is worthy of some thought and consideration.
    Merrill

  4. Hi Merrill—

    We can always count on your unique perspective, (and I mean that in a good way). I think it’s possible to find the “angle” of most Biblical stories that resonate best with each reader, and the perspective he or she is using. Several years ago, a priest gave a sermon on the story of the Prodigal Son, concentrating on the last part, when the son “comes to his senses” and returns home. He turned the story around, and took it from the son’s perspective, rather than the forgiving father’s. Basically, the son is an ungrateful, irresponsible little jerk who will do anything to avoid growing up. So, when he tells himself, “I will return to my father’s house and beg to be taken back as one of his servants”, it’s really false humility. What’s he’s really saying is, “If I can get dad to let come back as a worker, I get three hots and a cot and don’t have to take on the responsibility of being the boss’ son and one day running the farm.” The son still doesn’t want to commit to his duties as an heir. Dad, of course, sees through the ruse immediately and, by placing a robe on his son and throwing him a party, basically forces him to take on the mantle of responsibly. The kid’s days of half-hearted commitment are over. The none-too-subtle message is that if you’re going to call yourself a follower of Jesus, it’s an all or nothing proposition.

    I think many of the Bible’s stories are written so they can be approached from many viewpoints and still allow the reader to come away with an important lesson. And I think that’s where the “divine inspiration” part comes in. I’ve never thought the Bible was the inerrant word of God, literally true from cover to cover. Nor did God use the writers are mere puppets who took dictation. I think God inspired the authors to be able to write stories, poetry, and music that could be discussed and reinterpreted for 3,000 years and remain relevant to everyday life. To me, that’s far more profound than making myself believe the earth was created in six 24-hour days. We can make of the stories what we will, but we certainly can’t deny their impact.

  5. Hey, Tim. It really wasn’t my intention to deal with this bible story so much as the “inerrant” word…..as much as having it be an example of the myriad of possibilities in any story….and how the storyteller gets to chose the version which will be known, in this case as the story of Esther. The point I wanted to make was that there might be other angles IF you allow yourself to look at the stories that way. For example, your prodigal son sermon. But I also wanted to point out that looking at other angles will not necessarily lead you to the SAME conclusions as the “original.” Thus, the power of the storyteller to decide for the unquestioning reader what the main idea/theme of the story is to be.

    My version of the story of Esther would not have led the Jews to celebrate their freedom….to create Purim. At least that was my thought. Esther would not be adored for her courage and strength……in fact, it might be said that she almost prositutes herself. Haman is not evil…he is just power hungry. You get the idea. It creates a whole different scenario which could just as well have been accurate! EXCEPT for the storyteller….who decided to tell it a different way. We cannot forget the power of the storytellers.
    Merrill

    • OK, now I see more clearly where you’re coming from. Its about the spin a storyteller can put on a story that can change not only how the message is conveyed but what the message itself is, right?

      • Absolutely! Precisely why the storyteller is so powerful. And it is is not necessarily “spin,” although I do believe that surely often can be. Sometimes it is the perspective from which the storyteller views the story……they believe that their version IS the right one. However, I might change my mind on that if I watch the new reports on TV too often! MET

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