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
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.