The Jews commemorate Purim

Yesterday evening, people walking past the Kadoorie Synagogue and the Achdut (union) Centre of the Jewish community of Oporto might be forgiven for thinking it was Carnival. At no other time of year do we see so many people dressed up as queens, Spider Man, Homer Simpson or gorillas walking along the streets.

There is no cause for alarm. The uproar was brief, restricted to the spaces mentioned and to private homes. It was the feast of Purim, a Jewish holiday commemorating an important event that took place in ancient Persia. The Jewish people were saved from a plot by a man named Haman, then prime minister and principal adviser to the Persian king. Haman wished to assassinate every Jew, young and old, children and women, in one single day.

Purim is celebrated with sweets, delicious beverages and wine, which the wise men of the Talmud recommend be taken in large quantities. In the Caribbean nations of Suriname and Curaçao, this Carnival-like festivity is accompanied by fireworks lasting several days.

It is a happy day. Everyone, from the man on the street to the academic, shares joyful stories to boost the jubilation of this date. Revellers dress up not only to spark contentment but because this reflects the disguised manner in which God so often works behind natural events.

The day before Purim is a day of fasting, as in that distant time when Esther fasted, asking God to save her people. We provide financial or other support to people in need, for they exist in all ages and all places. Usually, the first to give thanks is the one who has made the gift, not the one who received it. To give is a religious obligation.

The story of Purim took place in the 5th century of the Common Era, its main protagonist being Queen Esther, who was so beautiful that she was chosen by the Persian king Achashverosh to be his wife. Esther kept her Jewish identity a secret in that huge empire spanning more than one hundred countries. All Jews were subjects. Mordechai was the leader of the Jewish people in Persia. Esther was his niece.

One day, Haman was offended when Mordechai did not kneel before him and immediately began making plans to commit genocide on a stateless people. The Holocaust was not the Nazis’ idea. Others have had it, still have it and will continue to have it.

Nothing could stop Haman. He was a very powerful man. He had the king’s ear. He ruled Persia. The Jews were nothing in the face of the powers he had amassed following many years of dedication and hard work on behalf of the Persian cause. The day of the genocide drew near.

However, Haman was quite wrong. The idea of justice permeates the rationality around the Universe. One single and quite improbable person sufficed to revert at one stroke this entire situation. Using all her magic gifts as a Jew and a woman, Esther told the king of this evil plan drawn up without his knowledge. Achashverosh hated to be deceived.

The king’s sentence was swift. Haman was hanged with the same rope he had carefully prepared for Mordechai. His pride and evil were hanged with him. This marked the end of a powerful man who an hour before his hanging believed himself invincible.

The Jews survived. They celebrated in the street. Two millennia have passed. We celebrate to this day, tenaciously holding onto our source of strength, rejecting all that is contrary to our deep culture. The Jewish people have fought against all the great empires. One by one, these have succumbed, yet this tiny people are still alive.

Before, during and after the disaster of Shoah, Stalin handled the “Jewish problem” in his own way. In the early 1950s, his spiral of hatred of the Jews knew no limits. He invented conspiracies, ordered executions and adopted a course of rampant persecution. And something unusual occurred at Purim. There was no Esther to save her people, but nature took the life of the cruel dictator.

My small daughter is called Esther, which in Hebrew means "hidden". Queen Esther was a lady of rare humility, modesty and unpretentiousness. She was forced into marriage with the king of Persia, yet her simplicity was quite catching. She was loved by everyone in the palace.

According to Jewish tradition, God places each person where they need to be to fulfil their mission in life, whatever their condition, location, position or profession. All human beings have qualities that can suddenly change the course of events around them, without having to be exposed to the bright lights of fame and gossip.

Source: Diário de Notícias