Thursday, August 7, 2008

More on Hamadan's tomb of Esther and Mordecai

Excerpt from Purim in the land where it began: Persian-born Jews of San Diego talk about their special holiday
San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage
, March 21, 1997
By Donald H. Harrison

Esther and Mordechai are believed to be buried in a tomb in the Iranian city of Hamadan, which is located between Teheran and Iran's western border with Iraq.

Lyda Cohen, wife of the obstetrician, remembers having gone from her home in Teheran to visit the tomb. One had to bow low to go inside its entrance, assuring that a pilgrim entered with an attitude of respect.
She recalled that pilgrims would pray while walking around two large, ornately carved trunks, before they would back out of the tomb. By backing out, the pilgrims avoided showing disrespect to the great personages buried inside.

The burial sites of Mordechai and Esther were said to be in the cellar below, in the exact locations where the two trunks were placed on the floor above, she recalled.

Breskin said pilgrims would fast the day before Purim--the way Esther had fasted before she persuaded King Ahashuerus to save the Jews -- so as to give their petitions and prayers inside the tomb more merit.
Architect Yassi Gabbay, who renovated the tomb 20 years ago before moving to Beverly Hills, said pilgrims used to light candles in an antechamber before entering the main room of the tomb, but said that custom was halted as a result of a fire. Candles were especially dangerous in the main room, he added, because of the pilgrims' custom of draping the ornately carved trunks with cloths as a remembrance of their visit.

"Sometimes there would be so many fabrics left by people," that the fire danger was particularly high, he said.

The architect, who since has won awards from the City of Beverly Hills for his design of an office building at 9025 Wilshire Blvd., and an Oriental Rug Showroom at 8725 Wilshire Blvd., said before the tomb was refurbished it was hidden from view by an apartment building.

He said the Jewish community of Hamadan purchased that apartment building and razed it to clear the way for a courtyard and a synagogue to be added to the tomb complex.

The tomb itself dates back only to the 16th or 17th century, he said, built over the deep pit in which the original burials are believed to have occurred.

Although the small Jewish community of Hamadan has mostly emigrated since the takeover of the Iranian government by Islamic fundamentalists, Gabbay and Cohen both reported that they have been informed that the tomb remains well cared for by the Islamic Revolutionary authorities.
Asked how it happened that Esther's and Mordechai's` tomb should be in Hamadan, rather than in Persepolis, which was the ancient capital of Persia (Iran), Joshua Cohen explained that after King Ahashuerus died, there arose a king who knew not Esther.

Hamadan, which has far cooler temperatures than the desert city of Persepolis, was the summer capital of Persia, so Esther and Mordechai removed themselves from the palace to an exile in the summer resort, where they spent their final years, according to the folklore.

Hamadan literally means "place of knowledge," and people from Hamadan are praised or teased about how smart they are supposed to be,