SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – In honor of Jewish Heritage Month here’s a look at some of Shreveport’s earliest settlers who are of Jewish descent.
One Jewish tradition brought to Shreveport has almost been erased from cultural memory. The Shreveport Purim Ball, which took place once a year from 1873 until 1882, was meant to instill a spirit of religious harmony and communal good throughout the city and region. This annual masquerade ball attracted an enormous cross-section of Shreveport’s society section.
Fashion was an important aspect of the yearly masquerade ball.
The Purim Balls quickly became a Shreveport tradition, and by the fourth year of the ball the Shreveport Times wrote that at the ball, the traditions of history were set aside with impunity and “the deadliest enemies met on a feeling of easy friendship”.
The ball of 1877 featured an acting company from Marshall, Texas, who performed an opera that portrayed the Purim story.
For those who aren’t familiar with Purim, it tells the tale of Queen Esther. She was married to a Persian King (Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes I) who listened to Haman (Ahasuerus’ most trusted advisor) and was talked into signing a decree to kill every Jew in Persia.
Both fortunately and unfortunately for Queen Esther, she was Jewish. She knew that approaching her husband and asking him to rescind the order after first explaining to him that she was Jewish—well, that could have turned out badly for her.
But Esther had been raised by her Uncle Mordecai. When Esther found herself contemplating whether to speak up or close up, Mordecai counseled her by explaining that if she remains silent, someone else will do what is right—but that if she doesn’t speak up both she and her family members will die. Then Mordecai passes along an important point. He says that she may have become queen for just such a time, implying that Esther’s marriage to Xerxes (Ahasuerus) was either sheer coincidence or Esther’s destiny prearranged by God.
The symbology of Esther choosing to tell her husband the truth about her heritage, thus saving all Jewish peoples from being executed in Xerxes’ Persian empire, represents the choice to have faith or not believe. Esther could have focused on herself and not others, and her race would have possibly experienced what we refer to today as genocide. But the other choice Esther had wasn’t easy, either. She had to not only believe in God, but also that God was powerful enough to invisibly create a destiny for Esther that still left her with the right to make her own decisions.
Shreveport’s Purim Balls always featured one king and one queen, appropriately named Ahasuerus (Xerxes) and Esther.
The last Purim Ball was held in Shreveport 140 years ago in 1883.
Perhaps a Shreveport Purim Ball is perfect for a time such as the one we’re experiencing today. It was a masquerade ball, with a king and queen, and the Jewish holiday is in early March.
Reinstating a ball that celebrates faith, courage, unity, and history is no easy feat. But perhaps a grand old house in South Highland would be the perfect place for such an event.
In all of Shreveport’s history, there was just one mayor of South Highland. His name was Emmanuel Bodenheimer. And yes, he was Jewish. He became mayor of the settlement known as South Highland before it became a part of Shreveport.
Jewish history in Shreveport dates back to a Jewish immigrant settler who arrived before Shreveport was built on the shores of the Red River.