23 March 2016

Finding Esther in Hamadan

Imagine the opulence of Shushan

Finding Esther *
by Annika Hernroth Rothstein
A Swedish Jew who came to Persia, to Ramadan and to Esther HaMalka

The sun shines brightly over the ancient City of Hamadan in the Kurdish part of northern Iran, encapsulated by the majestic Mount Alvand. I've traveled a long way to get here from a frigid Nordic kingdom, in order to see my hero and fulfill a dream. I have come to find Queen Esther.

She was the second wife of XerxesI (who ruled from 486 to465 BCE) – referred to as Khashayarsha in Persian – the fourth king of the Achaemenid Empire. She is the heroine of the story of Purim, together with Mordecai – both Jews exiled from the Land of Israel along with many of their compatriots in the sixth century. We celebrate their deeds "that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another and gifts to the poor." (Esther 9:22) every year on a day that is holier to us even than the solemn Yom Kippur.

Iranian Jews also make a pilgrimage to the graves in Hamadan where Esther and Mordecai are buried.

For years there have been rumors of destruction surrounding their tombs, but on that cold February morning I see nothing broken about the humble structure. I bow walking through the tiny front door and the vault opens up to me, familiar sentences in an otherwise foreign land. There is a small synagogue inside, and next to it a carving of the entire bloodline of Mordecai. I follow the Hebrew letters with a shivering hand and mouth the names tentatively, gathering myself before I turn back around.

It is unassuming yet grand, the small room containing the two tombs of my ancestors. Red cloth covers a Persian woodcarving and over it a silver chain, holding a thin golden plaque with their names, sealed out in the letters of three alphabets.

I touch the wood and I cry, silently but violently, moved by the moment but also by the passage of time. We are still here, I keep thinking. We are alive and we are thriving and I, a Swedish Jew, have come here to pay tribute to those who fought for that survival and ensured the pride I feel today. Every thought I had in that moment was a prayer, every feeling I felt was in worship.

I had made it; I had finally realized the dream.  I went to find her. And I found everything.


*This article appeared in the JPost Friday edition, March 19. It was a pleasure to read about her travel to Ramadan in the Kurdish area of Persia. Also featured was nother article by Anikka entitled "The Dichotomy of Iran," wherein she documents (Firsthand impressions of Tehran and its People) her visit to Persia and the people she met and what she learned. (I typed the article from the Post, as the online version required creating an account.)

1 comment:

DS said...

Thank you.