Purim in Peru

It’s a festival that is marked by people probing themselves through fasting and realizing follies of the past. Like in other places, Peru also celebrates Purim for three days with the fast of Esther taking place a day before the Purim.

This is followed by observing the commandments and enjoying yourself with fun and laughter on the day of Purim itself. By observing the festival, people are reminded of the blessings bestowed on them. They are reminded of the dangers that existed and how they were spared from the wrath of Haman.

The Book of Esther clearly outlines how it all happened and how people should be thankful for their salvation. My curiosity was further aroused as how it all enfolded in Peru and other South American countries. Though very little is recorded, I realized that Jews had to preserve their customs secretly and that inquisition spelled danger of extinction.

Peru had a very easy-going population that attracted explorers from around the world. The Spanish inquisition forced Jews to go into hiding in the 1400s. Columbus had taken four voyages around that time that opened the colonization of the new world. I gathered enough information to suggest that Jews rose into important positions which actually made them more vulnerable. Purim now observes the same customs that were probably maintained since hundreds of years.

The Jewish heritage was difficult to retain with very little organization and documentation, but the Anusim or Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity always remembered their connection to Queen Esther. Whenever the megillah or secret scroll is read and when Haman’s name is pronounced, there is much noise, yelling, and shouting followed by fun and celebration.

An interesting bit of information came up when I went through history books. The Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews came to Peru in the early 1900s and joined German Jews already living there since the 19th century. Records indicate that around 400 Jews existed in Lima at the time. It’s very much probable that they were the Anusim who were used to disguise and hide their religious beliefs. It must have been difficult to remember all the laws and dates without a Jewish calendar or books to guide them.

Jews in Peru have to organize themselves better to observe Purim according to the written books. In the year 2000, four separate communities existed including the Sephardi Orthodox, Ashkenazi Orthodox, the Chabad, and the Conservative. The very fact that four sects were formed some time earlier suggests that it was in fact difficult to unify and come together as a unified clan.

Four main commandments are to be observed on Purim by Jewish people irrespective of the part of the world in which they reside. The reading of the Scroll of Esther, sending food gifts to friends, giving alms to the needy, and celebrating the holiday with a special meal are to be observed during Purim. Peruvian Jews have responded to calls from Israel and are more direct in their celebrations now.

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