The last time, Purim was celebrated in Hohenems might have been, when Jewish DPs from Eastern Europe lived in Hohenems after 1945 for a short while. But from archival sources we know that in the 19th century Purim was joyfully celebrated in Hohenems, regularly both in local pubs and on the street.
This was also the case in 1811, when the Jewish carnival was celebrated with a parade from the Jewish quarter in the center to the public Bath building in the southern part of the town – and back. Christians participated, some helping out with collecting the entrance fee for the masked ball, others offering pastry and other bakery goods. And a music band around bassist Rick came from Bregenz to entertain the guests of the festivity in the “Old Post” pub. We know all that from the police protocols. Why?
The officers had to interfere, when local hoodlums from Bregenz – in fact they were civil servants and other members of the better society – came to disturb the feast. When the parade came by they accused the participants – Seligman Bloch in particular, wearing a Bavarian toll officers uniform – of making a mockery of official symbols. Well that’s exactly what the carnival is about, also the Christian one taking place a few days earlier every year. But what’s allowed for Christians might not be for their Jewish neighbors?
After enjoying beer in the tavern of the brewery, the drunkards from Bregenz (among them a forest ranger and an accountant, a court servant, a pharmacist and a lawyer) went to the “Old Post” and started a brawl. The double bass of Mr. Rick was the first victim, but also the two Jewish teachers got hurt, Mayer Brezfeld and Simon Drach, who tried to calm down the offenders.
In the end the gang from Bregenz was arrested. But never sentenced.
When two weeks ago the Jewish community of Tirol and Vorarlberg, with a little help from the Jewish museum, celebrated Purim again in Hohenems, there were no hoodlums to disturb the party, but a lot of humor in place. Again, Christian locals participated in the festival, this time in masks of all kind themselves. Among them museum staff and friends from association, and neighbors from the Jewish quarter. And a descendant of the Hirschfeld family, living in Bregenz, won the prize for the best mask.
The memory of the Jews of Persia, saved by Esther’s and Mordechai’s courage from the extermination, plotted against them by the evil grand vizier Haman, was celebrated with decent irony. With good music, both life and in the disco, installed in the Federmann auditorium in the old Jewish school, great Jewish food served by the Moritz restaurant in the same building – and a lot of high quality Vodka, helping us to fulfill the religious demand to drink enough, “until one cannot tell between the damned Haman and the blessed Mordechai”.
The reading of the Esther scroll became a world premiere though: recited by various participants in all the local dialects surrounding us in Vorarlberg, Switzerland, Austria and Southern Tirol, spiced with some Russian and Israeli accents and my own hometowns idiom, the Frankfurt dialect…
Now everybody is waiting for the next Purim party in Hohenems.