Around the world Jews read from the same scroll on Purim — Megillat Esther — but there, similarities between the celebrations often end. From Algeria to Zimbabwe, Jews have some uniquely indigenous Purim traditions.
They’ve been collected by the Hadassah International Research Institute on Jewish Women in a new volume, “Esther’s Legacy,” which includes recipes, poems and songs.
What surprised Barbara Vinick, a special projects consultant to the Hadassah Institute and the book’s editor, were the “unexpected places” from which she received tales of Purim, including Gibraltar, Thailand and Uganda.
In Azerbaijan, the last name of “mountain Jews” is often Mordechayev, after the Purim story’s hero. Azerbaijani Jews feast not on hamentaschen, but on hasido — a kind of sweet dough — wrapped in thin bread.
In Congo, Selma Israel celebrated many years of Purim dressed, like little Jewish girls the world over, as Queen Esther — but for her first she was a banana tree.
In Croatia last year, Jews prepared and read stories of Hamans throughout history — from Pharaoh to Torquemada, Tsar Nicholas to suicide bombers. They also recalled the deliverance of local Jews from death at various points of their history in the region.
In Egypt and other Arab countries, Purim goodies include mamoul, filled with ground dates and crushed nuts, the bagel-like pastry kaak, and sambousek filled with cheese, egg yolk and mint.
Frida Shomer Bakal, raised in Alexandria, Egypt, recalls her mother baking for days and going from house to house, exchanging the treats. But the religious aspect was conducted quietly, with Jews going to each other’s homes to hear Megillat Esther but not dressing up in costume.
The book also shows Purim being celebrated in paradise.
In Tahiti, after reading the Scroll of Esther, Jewish children put on a show — invariably featuring Queen Esther wearing a pareo. Then, songs of Purim are loudly sung, according to Patrick Sabbah’s account. “This disturbs no one,” he wrote. After all, “All Tahitians love to party.”