Yesterday night was a very special treat for me. Hayley, my Head of House, invited the Jewish students of LPC and me to the celebration of the Jewish Purim festival in Central, where three of our students were supposed to perform a glow-in-the-dark-dance. Interested in this new experience, I obviously said yes and met at 6.45pm with Hayley’s family and the other students to go to the festival.
Purim is considered the most fun of all Jewish festivals. “You are supposed to get as drunk as just possible”, one of my Jewish firstyears said; many people wear masks or crazy costumes, there are parades and really good food. However, highlight of the event is certainly the reading of the Megillah, the biblical book of Esther. The story read out in Hebrew is the one of the wicked plot of Haman, a royal advisor to King Ahasuerus, to kill all Jews in the country. However, when the King had abandoned his wife and chose a new one, he had laid his eyes on Esther, a beautiful jewish girl raised by her Uncle Mordecai. As she did not tell him about herself being Jewish, Ahasuerus married Esther. Soon after, Ahasuerus appointed Haman as new prime minister. Mordecai refused to approve this appointment by bowing in front of him, and hence fell in disgrace of Haman. When he found out that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman decided to kill all Jews, starting to plot his evil plan. However, in the end he failed as Esther revealed to the King that Haman wanted to kill all Jews, including her and her people. The King became so angry that he let Haman be hanged and allowed the Jews to kill anyone threatening their people.
The reading of the Megillah of Esther is interactive for the audience. Whenever the name Haman, the “bad guy”, comes up in the reading, everybody is aloud to make a lot of noise. Everybody screams, claps heir hand, stomps their feet or waves clackers around. Apparently this is used to express the anger at Haman and not to have to hear his name. Especially the children seem to like this part of the reading, but all adults join in happily, too… The rabbi who read the Megillah to us read it incredibly fast. Even our Israeli student found it difficult to follow his words! While he read the story, the rabbi rocked back and forth, “probably bowing to God while he prays”, as one of my Jewish peers tried to explain to me. Also important to mention is, that the whole room was nearly entirely dark during the reading. Still, everybody held a copy of the Megillah in their hand and read the story quietly together with the Rabbi. Some had even brought proper torah scrolls with them!
During the reading, men and women sat separate; the men on the left, women on the right. I realized that it was not important for the men to specifically wear a Kippa, as long as their head was covered. Therefore, some wore Chinese traditional hats, pirate hats, goofy cylinders or something else. For those, like another of my Jewish firstyears, who had forgotten their Kippa, there was a pile of ones that you could borrow and give back after the celebration. Even the rabbi had attached glow-in-the-dark-sticks to his hat!
After the reading, there was a bit of food and drinks for everyone to enjoy. Usually the reading of the Megillah is following by great donations to charity or a festive meal, but we simply had some decent snacks and soda. I particularly liked a special treat offered to us, the Hamantaschen. Those are a sweet dough circles filled with chocolate paste and curled up at the sides. Absolutely delicious!
After the reading of the Megillah and those wonderful snacks, everybody left to go celebrating. There was supposed to be a special party for young people in relation to Purim, but they requested an entrance fee of 200HKD (20€), as Hayley warned us. So we decided to go to Lan Kwai Fong instead. Live music, dancing from the bottom of your soul, with people you love – what better way could there be to finish the Purim festival celebrations? I can think of none.
This is what I love about LPC: I really get into the experience of other cultures, traditions and religions – and sometimes that can obviously happen quite randomly! A few weeks before this celebration of Purim, Hayley had invited a couple and students and me to celebrate the weekly Shabbat blessing, the Kiddush with her family at their flat. Her family had guests over that evening and they were all pleased to meet students from so many different countries. The men of the family also wore their Kippa, and we stood around the dining table. One of the men blessed the wine, and Hayley’s son blessed the bread, the Challah, that was hidden under a cloth. Then, they pulled the cloth away and tore the bread to share it. Hayley’s husband filled special Kiddush cups with wine – he showed me one of the cups, that was from Germany! – and gave each of us one cup to drink. Then we all drank the wine together and shared the Challah bread – which was really tasty, by the way! So Purim was in some way already my second opportunity to gain closer insight to Jewish traditions and festivities – and I can’t wait to learn even more!