Sunday, February 24, 2013

Acoma Celebrates Shushan Purim

Jewish American Princess Revives Tradition: In an ancient ceremony involving music, dancing, noisemaking, eating, drinking, and the wearing of masks, Acoma Pueblo ("Sky City") today celebrates the holiday of Shushan Purim.

Acoma Pueblo Shushan Purim Mask
How did this celebration come to be? It starts with the traditions surrounding the observance of Shushan Purim itself.  My Jewish Learning tells us:
Among all the Jewish holidays, Purim has the singular distinction of having its date determined by whether or not a person lives in a city surrounded by a wall.
The distinction is derived from a passage in the Megillah:
But the Jews in Shushan mustered on both the 13th and 14th days and so rested on the 15th and made it a day of feasting and merrymaking. That is why village Jews who live in unwalled towns observe the 14th day of the month Adar and make it a day merrymaking and feasting and as a holiday and an occasion for sending gifts to one another.
My Jewish Learning further explains:
The story differentiates between Jews who lived and fought their enemies for two days within the walled, capital city of Shushan and those who lived in unwalled towns, where only one day was needed to subdue the enemy. The Rabbis determined we should make that same distinction when memorializing the event.
Accordingly, if a person lives in a city that has been walled since the days of Joshua (circa 1250 BCE), as Shushan was, Purim is celebrated on the fifteenth of the month of Adar, a day referred to as "Shushan Purim."
Those who live in unwalled cities celebrate on the 14th, the day referred to as just "Purim." The sages considered making Shushan Purim conditional on whether a city was walled from the time of Ahasuerus; but they did not wish to honor a Persian city over one in the Land of Israel, given that Israel was in ruins at the time of the Purim miracle.
Joshua was chosen because, in the Book of Exodus, he is the general who begins the effort to annihilate the descendants of Haman's ancestor, Amalek.
A View of Acoma Pueblo

Acoma Pueblo, Wikipedia tells us:
...  is a Native American pueblo approximately sixty miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico in the United States ...
The Acoma have continuously occupied the area for more than 800 years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States.
Acoma tribal traditions estimate that they have lived in the village for more than two thousand years.
Why, then, does Acoma Pueblo celebrate Shushan Purim (and not "Purim")? What are the criteria? The Orthodox Union (OU) tells us it all depends on:
The condition of the city during the days of Yehoshua [Joshua]. That is to say, walled cities either found by Yehoshua in the Land of Israel, or built with walls in his time, are assured of eternal existence. Their present destruction is viewed as passing.
Today, there are only three cities in which Purim is celebrated on the fifteenth of Adar: Shushan, of course. And, certainly, Jerusalem. And, thanks to Solomon Bibo (Moses On The Mesa) and (especially) his Jewish American (Indian) Princess wife, Juana - Acoma.

Painting of Solomon Bibo by Unknown Artist

Yes, Acoma. Just to refresh our memory, Wikipedia tells us:
[Solomon] Bibo married into the Acoma tribe. His wife, Juana Valle, was the granddaughter of a former Acoma governor; raised Catholic, she converted to Judaism ... The marriage made Solomon a member of the Acoma tribe.
In 1885, the Acomas elected Solomon Bibo as their new governor, the equivalent of the tribal chief. "Don Solomono", as he was known by the tribe, served as governor four times ....
These facts are, of course, well known. More obscure - but just as relevant - is the story of how Juana and Solomon came to re-introduce the forgotten celebration of Shushan Purim to the Acoma.

Shushan Purim Celebration in Acoma Pueblo

Juana, as many converts did and do, turned to Orthodox Judaism. She kept a strictly kosher home, observed the Sabbath in all its splendid peculiarities, and even shlepped once a month to the Mikveh at Ojo Caliente (Hot Springs Mikveh she did not think was kosher enough).

Solomon, on the other hand, was brought up in the loosey goosey tradition of German Reform. The newly wedded couple resolved this theological and gastronomical impasse by establishing the first Conservative synagogue in New Mexico.  Shushan Purim was the new shul's first fundraiser / mixer.

Years later, when the demographics of Acoma Pueblo changed, Temple Anshei Acoma removed itself to Duke City, where it became Congregation B'nai Israel.

Today, the citizens of Albuquerque celebrate Purim on Purim. But that's another story.

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