This evening, Jews all over the world mark the joyous holiday of Purim. The story in Megillat Esther – the biblical Book of Esther-recounts the saving of the Jews from a threatened massacre during the Persian period (539-330 BCE). The Megillah presents the tale of Esther, an orphaned girl-turned-queen, how she married King Ahashuerus , and saved the entire Jewish community in the ancient Persian city of Shushan, through her bravery and wit. In addition to listening to a lively reading of the Megillah, the holiday is traditionally celebrated with feasting and children’s carnivals. It is also customary to send gifts of food – mishloach manot – to friends, family, and others. The customary three-cornered hamentaschen pastries are sure to be included.
The custom of fancy Purim balls originated in the second half of the 19th century in North America. The idea was to hold a fancy dress ball in order to raise money for charity, a popular concept at the time among Victorian elites.The first Purim ball ever took place in Manhattan in 1862, straddling the line between ritual and a society event. The idea took off and the following year, a grand Purim ball took place with some three thousand guests – Jews and non-Jews alike. Dozens of communities began to follow suit and the Purim ball was a wildly popular annual event, continuing in some communities to this day.
Amongst the thousands of photos in the Jewish Heritage Centre archive are memories of Purim balls past that took place closer to home. Here is a sampling from our treasured JHC collection as well as photos of precious Purim artefacts.