My young neighbors. Talia and Yonatan, parents of six month old baby Noelle, invited me to a Purim costume party in their luxurious home.
It is an impossibility to describe it. The family and guests were all Afghanistani Jews, Bukharan Jews, Persian Jews, Israeli Jews and me….the one and only Ashkenazi Jew among them.
The palace in Shushan would have been very jealous if they could have seen the festive spread of food.
16 trays heaping high with 4 gigantic bowls of different salads, 2 very large pizzas, roasted eggplants, baked lasagna, baked ziti, macaroni and cheese, pasta salad, baked fresh salmon, cheeses ,burekas and so many more delicacies that my memory cannot remember them all.
The twenty-eight invited guests, all speaking Hebrew, filled plates as high as the plate could hold and when the guests finished eating, some went back to the two buffet tables for a refill. Almost enough food to feed an army brigade.
Prayers were recited and blessings given to the hosts by loving grandparents, some dressed in magnificent Afghani robes and crowns in purple silk and gold, and in woven silk robes of brilliant colors and designs for the women, matched with crowns,
It was a vision of royalty. The men were kings and the women were queens, while most of us wore creative home-made costumes.
More prayers were recited before dessert was served. Five different cakes, assorted cookies, and baskets groaning with fresh fruits and platters of assorted fresh berries. All the foods, with the exception of the pizza, were home-made, each with the flavor and taste of those who cooked and baked.
It was a Purim to remember. It was an ingathering of our exiled people. As the single Ashkenazi Jew among the Middle East Sephardic Jews gathered, I learned more than I had known before.
The host’s father passed his phone to me to share with me a video of the tombs of Esther and Mordechai in Hamadan, Iran, beautifully decorated and preserved.
Each guest related memories of their countries of origin in the Hebrew language and it was like living in ancient Persia when people sat around a story-teller to enjoy fascinating tales.
Nothing in my Ashkenazic background could compare with the festivities in my neighbor’s home. And most certainly, nothing could compare to the abundance of bowls and platters filled to over-flowing.
I don’t think that Ahasuerus (Xerxes) had such a variety in his spacious palace. Poor Queen Esther. Because of her faithfulness in observing the kosher food laws, she was restricted to a diet of beans. Even at the two festive banquets which she prepared for her husband, the king, and for the wicked vizier, Haman, I can picture the Queen picking at a variety of beans. She never lacked for proteins.
Looking at the magnificent robes of Talia’s grandparents from Afghanistan, I had visions of how royalty must have dressed in Shushan, the capital of Persia.
The evening made me recall the words from a Hebrew song of long ago.”hinai ma tov u’ma na-im, shevet achim gam yachad….. behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to sit together”.
Jews, natives of Afghanistan, Bukhara, Iran, and sabras born in Israel all sitting together, eating, drinking, praying, sharing conversations, with some of the men engaged in study and interpretation of the Hebrew Bible’s recollection of Israel’s crossing the Reed Sea on their way out of Egypt.
It was, as one of the guests remarked, comparable to the differences of interpretation from the schools of Hillel and Shammai, from Rambam and Ramban and Rashi .
It was, for me, a mythical return to our beginnings as a people when we answered questions with new questions and argued over the meaning of syllables and words.
As midnight approached, I stood up and collected my costume on one arm while shaking hands with my wonderful neighbors Talia and Yonatan and the families who I could still see, with warm thanks for their very gracious invitation and for including me among their families.
It was a night never to be forgotten. It was a Purim to remember.
It was a Purim in an international and intercultural atmosphere…. A Purim of Jews eating, drinking, sharing stories and thanking God for our survival. Wonderful friendly gracious men and women celebrating a festival born in ancient Persia.
And history does repeat itself. A tyrant in Shushan, Persia and tyrants in Tehran, Iran. It is amazing how tyrants never learn from past history. Who will write the next Megillah… the one for these times?
But for me, as Talia and Yonatan’s guest, it was a Purim feast always to remember.