Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)


In March, there is a Jewish holiday called Purim. It celebrates the story of Esther, the favorite wife of Ahasuerus. He was the king of Babylon, a country that extended in the East to India and in the south to Ethiopia; its capital was Susa. I am going to relate a shortened version of the story.  

When Ahasuerus disposed of his favorite wife, Vashtu, because she had disobeyed him, he issued an order demanding that all of the most beautiful virgins of his lands be brought before him in order to select a new wife. Among them was Esther, whose parents had been killed when Nebukadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and taken prisoner all Jews. Esther had escaped with her uncle Mordechai to Susa. When the king saw Esther, he selected her as his favorite wife. But his prime minister, Haman, hated Jews. When Mordechai refused to kneel before him, as was customary, Haman went to the King and told him that among his people lived a proud and disobedient tribe and asked for permission to have them annihilated. To begin the slaughter and set an example, he urged that Mordechai be hanged from the highest gallows. When Mordechai went to Esther and told her about the plan, she went to King Ahasuerus and knelt before him. As a sign of his favor to his wife, the king touched her shoulder with his golden scepter and said: "Your wish is granted even if it is the half of my kingdom." Esther asked that her people be spared. The king granted her wish. To punish the evildoer Ahasuerus hanged Haman and his ten sons and bestowed the office of prime minister on Mordechai.

Purim is a joyous holiday. In my youth, children marched around in the synagogue waving blue and white flags, blowing horns, and candy was distributed. The last winter ball was given on this date by Jewish organizations. The story lent itself to theater dramatizations by children for children; I often acted
as Esther.

Most Jewish holidays are also connected with certain foods. Hamantaschen, a triangular cookie filled with prunes or poppy seeds were baked in our home. Today in the United States they can be purchased  in bakeries. Another food we ate on this holiday was chicken soup with “krepple,” a kind of ravioli. This was served at dinner.

Purim is not a high holiday and none of the restrictions of the high holidays are observed. However, I had to read the book of Esther every year but in my youth I did not understand the deeper meaning. We felt secure living in Germany and the thought never occurred to me or to anyone else that we would have to face another Haman--Hitler. I was lucky that I found my King, an American student, and so escaped, but there was no Mordechai to save others, the millions of Jews who died in World War II.


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