Thursday, March 21, 2019

House of One as guest: Purim

Purim is one of the happiest days of the Jewish year. The House of One, clergymen and co-workers of all three religions and of no religion, were guests at the Sukkat Shalom Synagogue in Berlin this year and celebrated the service under the leadership of Rabbi Andreas Nachama.

Like at carnival, the people were in costume, they were noisy as well as ate and drank. Many of the Christian and Muslim visitors did not only enter a synagogue for the first time on this day, but also got to know the Hamantaschen, the typical triangular Purim pastry filled with poppy seeds or plum jam.


Commemorating the rescue


The serious occasion of this festival easily fades into the background over so much joy: it goes back to the time about 2500 years ago when Jews in ancient Persia barely escaped their murder. The high official Haman at the court of the Persian king wanted to enact a law that would allow the Persian people to murder every Jew and to appropriate their property.

It was the Persian queen Esther who avoided this fate with the help of her uncle Mordechai. Esther persuaded the king to allow the Jewish people to defend themselves against their attackers with impunity.

This story is read once a year in the synagogue. The remembrance of this event is the focus of the festival. It is a positive look back, as the Jews could successfully defend themselves and avert evil. The exuberant joy with which the celebration takes place is not for the dead enemies, but for their own survival. The focus is on Esther and Mordechai; the name of the sinister official Haman will not be heard from the congregation during the reading of the story through ratchets, whistles and all kinds of noise.

In the Jewish tradition, the names of the deceased will be read to commemorate their memory. The noise thus symbolically erases the name of Haman. The Persian suffers the fate which he had intended for the Jews of Persia.