Sunday, March 30, 2008

Shushan's Top 40

The Jewish Week, March 17, 1995

Did you know that our sages considered Purim the most significant of holidays, the only one that will still be celebrated in messianic times? Even Yom Kippur can only measure its merit in relation to that jewel of Adar, the Jewish Morty-gras. In Hebrew, the name Yom Kippurim can be translated as "A day like Purim." Purim is our best kept secret, and it's a shame, because if it received even half the press given to our somber September-fests, Judaism would be as popular among the younger set as, well, as the Lion King himself.

In fact, a Purim album has just been released to coincide with the avalanche of publicity accompanying the release of that Disney video. Or maybe it was the video that was timed to come out just before Purim. This album, called "The Lyin' King," contains numerous hits from "Shushan's Top 40" that rival anything Motown has released since the days of Buddy Hallah.

Just look at what you get: immortal songs like, "It's My Minyan, I Can Pray If I Want To," "Mama, Don't Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Rabbis," and from that famous team of synagogue sextons, the Beadles, an all-time Purim favorite, "Esther Day."

To set the scene, the King has just banished his previous Queen because she refused to dance naked in front of all his friends. He couldn't understand why she would turn down such a reasonable request. So, he decides to arrange a beauty contest. He calls his friends at Sports Illustrated and asks them to send over their latest swimsuit recruits. Unfortunately, he gets the phone numbers mixed up, and he calls Hadassah Magazine by mistake. The models aren't exactly the type he's looking for. They're beautiful, of course, but better in the evening gowns than the swimsuits. But there is one who catches his eye immediately. And when he sees her, he knows right away, that it is:

Esther Day
Ahashverosh sent his queen away
Had a game Vashti refused to play
And so today is Esther Day

Every woman dreams of royalty
But there is one so fair all can agree
Esther Day came suddenly

Why she had to show I don't know
She wouldn't say
Of her deep, dark past no one asked
On Esther Day
Esther Day
Ahashverosh' court was swept away
Little did they know she was a "J"
Hip hip hooray
For Esther Day

The story continues. The king's servant, Haman, wants everyone to bow down to him. But Mordechai, Esther's agent and cousin, refuses to because he has a bad back. Haman goes to the King and says, "There's this man who won't bow down to me, and I'm very unhappy, so I'd like to exterminate his people." The King thinks that's a reasonable request and he grants it. The date of this mass murder is set by lottery: Adar 13. Everyone in the Kingdom then plays the number 13 in the Shushan Lotto Weekly Jackpot. No one wins. But Haman rubs his hands with Glee ( a popular Shushan brand of soap), and prepares to build a gallows.

And how could we forget that moving ballad of Haman's made popular by Mottel the tailor's kid brother, James, "Up On the Noose."

When these old Jews just refuse to bow down
It really makes me want to cook their goose;
So I climb way up to the top of this tree
And I feel a sense of glee
Affixin' the noose

On the noose, that's where ol' Mort will fly
And then all of his relatives will die
Oh my!

So I'll place a star by the month of Adar
On the thirteenth day, by lot, I'll end my truce
Mordechai will hang and his friends I'll defang
And then if the verdict's in,
I'll hang The Juice

On the noose, as lethal as can be
Thank God that rope was not put up for me!
Yippee! Up on the noose...

Mordechai catches wind of Haman's plot. Mordechai is not so pleased to have been standing downwind from Haman, but that's another story. He decides to act quickly and decisively.... He tells Esther to solve the problem.

The newly released "Lyin' King" album also has a number of original songs, from the "Lyin' King" soundtrack, sung by Elton Beit Shimoosh (ask your neighborhood Hebrew maven to decipher that one; you will gain a friend). Sample this new classic, taken directly from the dramatic encounter between Mordechai and Esther soon after Haman's plot is discovered, called, "I Just Can't Wait to See the King."

M: You're going up to see the king
To tell him of the plot

E: I just don't feel comfortable
His temper's rather hot

M: Don't worry, God is on your side
And I'll be right there too

E: I wouldn't have been in this mess
If it hadn't been for you
But maybe I can charm that ding-a-ling

M: See - you just can't wait to see the king

E: "Honey won't you wear this
Honey won't you cook that,"
He doesn't think I have a brain
He treats me like a ding bat

M: Now you can make history
You could be his Hillary

E: Maybe I should sleep on this
For a day or two

M: Go ahead and suit yourself
We'll pray and fast for you
But then you've got to get to him
To tell the king the truth

E: And if he's in a foul mood
I'll not live out my youth

M: But maybe half his kingdom will he bring

E: Oh I just can't wait to see the king!

And how about that modern spiritual classic from "The Lyin' King," "Teshuvah/Tzedakkah," sung by the king's philosopher-sidekicks, Poppy and 'Taschen: This song is sung when the King finds out from Esther about Haman's plot and he decides to hang Haman instead. Then, while Haman is being hoisted onto the gallows he had built for Moredchai, the King asks his sidekicks to explain to him the power of the Jewish message. And here's how it goes:

Teshuvah/Tzedakkah, what a wonderful phrase
Teshuvah/Tzedakkah, 'aint no passing craze
It means we worry, for the rest of our days
It's our philosophy of responsibility

Why, when he went to Hebrew School

When I went to Hebrew School

He found that his actions were not always nice
Could hurt other people, it made him think twice

I'm a sensitive soul, though I seem thick-skinned
And it hurt to remember the times I'd sinned.
And oh the shame! Thought of changing my name!
But through all the pain, knew
To say "Avinu Malkenu."

Teshuvah/Tzedakkah, no one's ever alone
Teshuvah/Tzedakkah, we take care of our own
It means we worry, when we pick up the phone
With so much at stake, remember Amalek

So who needs Disney, when our own traditions can guide us seamlessly along the great Triangle of Life -- so named, of course, after Haman's three cornered hat. Disney might have great stories, but only Purim has a plot that leaves nearly everybody hanging. The Lion King might be cute, but in Esther we have the face that launched a thousand Hadassah campaigns.

Purim could really be big. Bigger than Simba. Bigger than Power Rangers. Bigger than Elvis Elviself (the preferred gender-neutral form). It's cool. It's hip. It's fun. And -- it's a mitzvah!

That's right. You can enjoy your Judaism sans guilt. Even adults without young children can love Purim. Then, on the morning after, you can tell everyone at the office that you did a mitzvah the previous night. And wipe that silly smirk off your face.

So pick up your copy of "The Lyin' King" today. And tune in again next year for "Shushan's Top 40."

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