The Museum of

       Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays


Paint What You Remember
Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays in Opatów, Poland
as told by Mayer Kirshenblatt



The holiday of Purim commemorates the steadfast faith and miraculous survival of a Jewish community in Persia. To celebrate, we used to dress up in makeshift costumes and homemade masks. I just put on a white sheet and smeared my face with charcoal or with soot from the lamp chimney. We went from house to house singing a ditty to a familiar tune--'Hant iz pirim, morgn iz os, git mir a groshn in varft mikh aros' (Today is Purim, tomorrow it is over, give me a penny and throw me out)--and collecting candies and pennies.

A highlight of the holiday was the Purim play. The most popular plays were Mordechai and Esther, which told the story of Purim; Mekhires-yoysef, which was about the sale of Joseph by his brothers (this play always drew a few tears); and, above all, The Kraków Wedding (Krakoskie Wesele in Polish), which is the subject of this painting. The troupe would rehearse for months in advance. Most of the performers were laborers and artisans. They wore homemade costumes, the styles going back to the eighteenth century. The female characters are wearing the traditional costume of the Kraków region. If the women look masculine, it is because men are playing the female parts. in the Jewish tradition, a woman would not perform this sort of thing. Those playing male roles are wearing shako hats, which were inspired by the hats that soldiers wore during the Napoleonic wars to make them look taller and more intimidating. The hats were decorated with braid and tassels. The Kraków Wedding was the only Purim play that required instrumental music.


Purim Play: "The Krakow Wedding."

Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Purim Play: “The Kraków Wedding,”
c. 1994
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 40 in.
Collection of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
and Max Gimblett, New York.
Photographed by Tom Warren,
with the assistance of Anthony Fodero.

The Purim players would perform for five or six families in an evening. They did not visit every house, only those of prominent citizens. These were command performances in the homes of people who could afford to reward the players. They wouldn't come to my house. We loved to follow the Purim players from place to place. In my painting, you can see us standing outside Pinkhes Zajfman's home and watching the Purim play through the window. We weren't allowed inside. The place was too small and crowded. On the table you can see bottles of vodka and wine, candles, a few candles, and some little nibbles. There are only a few holidays in the Jewish tradition where you're obligated to get tipsy. Purim is one of them. Simchas Torah is another. By the end of the evening and after a few drinks, the Purim players would go home happy."

Mayer talks about the holiday of Purim in Apt (Opatow) and the Purimshpielers who performed for families in their homes. Listen to it.

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