The Jewish holiday of Purim starts Saturday at sundown. It is a joyous holiday, one of the many times that G-d saved the Jewish people from annihilation. And it falls in the middle of the month of Adar, considered the most joyous month in the Jewish calendar.
In case you don't know it, here's a short version of the story, as told in the Book of Esther ...
King Achashveirosh dismisses Queen Vashti when she disobeys him. Then he holds a beauty pageant to find a new queen, at which he chooses Esther, a Jew (although she doesn't disclose that bit of information). Shortly thereafter, Esther's cousin Mordechai incurs the wrath of Haman, the Prime Minister, by refusing to bow down to him. When Haman finds out that Mordechai is Jewish, he decides to kill not just Mordechai, but all the Jews in Persia.
In the meantime, the King learns that Mordechai once saved his life but was never honored, and tells Haman to plan a feast for someone the king wants to honor. Haman thinks he is the one to be honored and doesn't react well when it turns out that the feast is for his nemesis Mordechai the Jew.
Esther tells Achashveirosh that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to kill her people, including the man of the hour, Mordechai. The king orders that Haman be hung on the same gallows he had built to hang Mordechai.
If you want more details, Wikipedia actually has a pretty good summary.
But there's an even shorter version, which (the joke goes) can be applied to many Jewish holidays:
They tried to kill us.
It's not unique to Jews, but our most popular holidays are those that have food as part of the celebration. Which brings us to two of the most popular Jewish holiday foods - latkes and hamentashen.
Latkes are a Chanukah treat. Potato pancakes, fried in oil, to remember the miracle when one day's worth of holy oil lasted eight days so the Jews could rededicate the Temple.
Hamantashen are triangular cookies, filled with fruit, chocolate or other delicacies, which we eat on Purim. The shape is said to resemble the ears (or perhaps, the hat) of the story's villain, Haman, although it's probably better translated as "Haman's pockets".
Which brings us to the great culinary debate that has vexed the Jewish people for centuries - latkes or hamentashen?
At colleges across the country, very smart people debate this very important dilemma. The event, which began at the University of Chicago in 1946, has attracted such illustrious debaters as Milton Friedman and Alan Dershowitz. There is a book, and even a song, inspired by this eternal, unanswerable question.
Personally, I prefer the fried, salty goodness of the latke. But a nice chocolate filled hamentashen is a sweet treat. And while hamentashen are almost as good at room temperature as they are warm out of the oven, latkes are much better when they are dripping in hot oil.
Of course, even after you've decided between latkes and hamentashen, the debate doesn't end.
Do you top your latkes with apple sauce or sour cream?
Do you fill your hamentashen with poppy seeds, fruit or chocolate?
For your viewing pleasure, from the U of C's 2008 debate ...
Thomas Ginsberg for the hamentashen
Roy Weiss for the latke