Why do we send gifts and give charity on Purim

The Book of Esther (9:22) enjoins the Jews to "make days of feasting and gladness, and of sending gifts to one another (mishloach manot), and gifts to the Poor." It is typical of Judaism that, even during a holiday of revelry, we remember others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves. It is customary to send two gifts to at least one friend and to give a singl gift to at least two poor people. Even the poorest Jew is expected to share with others. Thus we learn that Tzedakah, at all times and in all places, is a religious duty.

Esther Hebrew name was Hadassah. Is there any connection between her and the great women's arganization of today

Yes, after a visit to Palestine the great Jewish leader Henrietta Szold decide to form a Zionist organization for women. She envisioned this group working for the health of women and children in what was to become the modern State of Israel.
The founding meeting was held at Congregation Eman-u-El of New York. The date -- Purim, 1912. The women constituted themselves as the Hadassah chapter of the Daughters of Zion. Eventually the name would become simply: Hadassah. The Biblical woman, who centuries before had delivered her people, thus gave her name to a new generation of women who would seek to emulate her noble example.
Purim teaches us that history can be capricious. But, while others may seek to determine our fate by "lots", it will ultimately be Jewish strength, commitment, and faith which ensure a bright future for our people.

What is the meaning of Purim

The Hebrew word "purim" derives from the old Person word "pur", meaning "lots". It refers to the "lottery tickets" used by Haman to determine a date for his planned destruction of the Jews of Persia

Where is the story of Purim found

The story of Purim is contained in the Scroll of Esther, Megillat Esther. Ther are four other Biblical megillot, each read in the synagogue on a holiday compatible with its theme. Esther is read on Purim, Ruth on Shavuot, Lamentations on Tisha B'av, Ecclesiastes on Sukkot, and Song of Songs on Pesach. Only in the case of Purim, however, does the megillah relate the holiday's basic story.

Is the story of Esther true

Probably not, though there is a supposed ancient tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Iran. There are some scholars who gypotesize that Ahashuerus was either Xerxes 1, who ruled Persia from 486-465 B.C.E. or Artaxerxes II, from 404-359 B.C.E. But historical records of the period make no mention of Haman, Esther or Mordechai, nor do they refer to any of the incidents in the Scroll of Esther.
There are many theories as to how the book came to be written:

Some scholars hold that Purim co-opted and Judaized the popular pagan carnivals of that era. Jewish leaders could not stop the people from feasting and prading, so they validated the practice in a Jewish historical framework, in the Scroll of Esther.

The second theory affirms that Esther was written about the time of the Maccabean revolt (165 B.C.E.). In the flush of victory, say these scholars, the book was created to reinforce the national mood of confidence in deliverance.
A third hypothesis is perhaps the most interesting. The Ba'bylonians had a New Year celebration when they believed their gods Marduk and Ishtar cast lots to determine each individual's fate. Then, say these scholars, the elements of this pagan festival were borrowed, rewritten, and transformed into Purim, with Marduk becoming Mordechai, Ishtar becoming Esther, and lots (purim) playing a pivotal role in the plot.
No one theory is,universally accepted, however, and the real origins of Megillat Esther remain a mystery.

But how can a Jewish hotiday be based on an event which may never have happened? Isn't that unusual

Purim is unusual in many respects. First, it has many secular aspects. Esther is the only book of the Bible in which G-d is not mentioned at all!
The elevation of Purim to a major holiday in the eyes of the Jewish people was a result of the Jewish historical experience. Over the centuries, Haman became the embodiment of every anti-Semite in every land where Jews were oppressed. Jewish communities throughout the world, when delivered from tragedy, often wrote their own megillot and celebrated local Purims. Even the enemeis of the Jews recognized their identification with Haman. In an eerie prophecy, in 1944, Adolf Hitler declared that, if the Nazis lost the war, the Jews would celebrate a second Purim.

The significance of Purim, then, lies not in how it began, but in what it has become--a thankful and joyous affirmation of Jewish survival against all odds.

Written by Rabbi Daniel B. Syme
Animation by Amanda