Sunday, March 20, 2011

For Purim 2011: A visit to New York City, 1872.

Happy Purim (which starts tonight).  We celebrate this Jewish holiday by giving gifts, wearing funny masks, and reading the "Megilla" or "Book of Esther." (Click here for the full text, from  The Megilla tells the story of how, on this day, the Jews in ancient Persia were saved from an evil minister to King Ahasuerus, a homicidal maniac named Haman, whose plan was foiled by Jewish heroes Mordechai and Queen Esther.   Haman is best known today for the three-cornered hat he supposedly wore, which we Jews remember in typical form through a special pastry with poppy seeds.  

Back in the 1870s in New York City, Purim gave the then-still-small Jewish community an excuse to celebrate.  They marked it with fancy masquerade balls and house-to-house visits.  Here are two quick newspaper clips, windows on the era.

First, from the New-York Times, March 25, 1872:  
(BTW- The two politicians mentioned toward the end, Hank Smith and [Benjamin] Manierre, were members of NYC's notoriously corrupt police commission who were exposed around this time as connected to Boss Tweed.  Smith fled the country to avoid prison.)

By this second clip, also from the New-York Times, March 7, 1879, the Purim Ball had grown more upscale.  Notice the Rothschilds, Seligmans, Schiffs, and other financial types in the box seats.

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