Day before,city’s Jews celebrate own festival of colours

While you are busy spraying wet colours and smearing gulaal on each other,the small Israeli expatriate community in the city have just finished celebrating their version of ‘good over evil’.

Written by Debesh Banerjee | New Delhi | Published: March 11, 2009 12:23 am

While you are busy spraying wet colours and smearing gulaal on each other,the small Israeli expatriate community in the city have just finished celebrating their version of ‘good over evil’.

The two-day festival of Purim,symbolising the saving of Jews from the evil designs of a Persian king that falls on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar,concluded on Tuesday — Chhoti Holi for Delhiites. This Jewish festival falls traditionally on a day before Holi is celebrated here and is mentioned in the Bible,unlike many other Jewish festivals during the year.

“This day is special to all Jews as it is mentioned in the Holy book of Esther as the day when Jews were spared by Haman,who worked under the Persian King Ahasuerus,” explains Remon Ezra,50,an Indian Jew staying here since 1990. Downing vodka at the Chabad House,he goes on: “As per tradition,the festival begins at sundown the previous day and ends with sundown on the next.”

In some cities in Israel that were protected by a wall,like Jerusalem,this festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Adar. “But since we are not sure whether Delhi was surrounded by a wall during this Holy occurrence,we celebrate a day earlier,” Ezra says.

The festival comes with its own set of commandments,and one of the most important is the mitzvah,or getting drunk. The other commandments include mishloach (exchanging gifts) and maot (donating to poor).

Now,mitzvah is just not about a sip or two of alcohol but to drink as long as one gets inebriated. “This is a celebration of life,and Jews just need a reason to drink,” says Ezra,who helps organise most festivities at the Chabad House.

He says Indian Jews are not too fond of large community dinners. “It is difficult to get together Indian Jews for large celebrations,so they mainly prefer to stay away or visit the synagogue for a quiet prayer.”

As is customary,the Purim celebrations begin with a half-an-hour reading of sacred texts from the Book of Esther,followed by feasting and a party. Tradition is still kept on mind at these gatherings and no one can touch the food unless they have washed their hands thoroughly.

“It is a 3,500-year-old tradition that needs to be followed,otherwise someone can even be disallowed from the dining table,” asserts Rabbi Shnoer Kupchik.

Home-cooked meals dominate the menu — Jerusalem Mix (liver,vegetables and chicken),vegetable salad,fried eggplant,humus and steamed rice. The food is eaten as part of a community dinner while chanting folk songs like Ose Shalom Bemrumah (Peace for Israel and the world) and Mesha Mesha (It’s time to be happy).

Ran Amiti,39,an Israeli resident in Delhi who looks forward to the festival away from his hometown Jerusalem,says: “We gather a few close Israeli friends and celebrate the sprit of brotherhood away from home.”

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