With Purim arriving on Wednesday evening March 4, featuring the reading of the Megilla, followed by our adult party, and celebrated in Sunday School on March 1, the emphasis is on happiness and joy. How ironic that this “happy” holiday, more than any other, addresses the reality that Jews, throughout the ages, have never been fully secure in the countries they have called home.
It is Passover, our holiday of Jewish origins as a people, coming one month later, that introduces the story of the first prolonged period of anti-Semitism. A Pharaoh arose that did not remember Joseph. This Pharaoh also introduced the language of persecution that has accompanied us throughout the ages and is the trademark of the Purim story: the threat to destroy the Jews in ancient Persia, now home to the greatest threat to Israel’s (if not the world’s) future: Iran.
Haman, the villain of the Purim story, like Pharaoh, made up tales about us: that Jews, given how different they were in their customs, observances and language, were not to be trusted as loyal citizens of the lands in which they lived.
Over the years, a primary source of anti-Semitism came out of Christian roots of upset that the Jews had rejected the role of Jesus in Divine Presence in their lives. One of the reasons that emerged over the last thousand years, in communities throughout Europe, for opening the door to welcome Elijah, near the end of the Passover Seder, was to show that Jews had nothing to hide. The notorious Blood Libels, accusing Jews of using Christian blood for matzah, resulted in Easter being a scary time for many Jewish communities, with Pogroms, attacks on Jewish villages known as Shtetls, being very common. The fact that Jews drain blood from all meat, part of the Kashering process, made these libels beyond absurd. So, we opened our doors both to welcome Elijah, representing a hope for his help to redeem our people, and to show anyone interested the truth of our customs and rituals. At some Seders the practice was to pour white wine so that there could be no possibility of misunderstanding.
While Christian-rooted anti-Semitism was never entirely eradicated, a more recent source of anti-Semitism has emerged from the Islamic tradition, beginning with their premise that it was unacceptable to have non-Islamic governance in what was considered lands that belonged to Islamic groups. That is why the notion of Israel living in peace with its neighbors is such a complicated matter. While Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran, Islamic revisionism has laid claim both to Jerusalem and all of Israel, which makes treaties in that area allowing for Israel’s existence theologically impossible for many, if not most, Arab groups and nations.
What is coming to light is that the deeper danger of ISIS is how they are grounded theologically, and their mission emerging, as a need to do battle with and vanquish the western nations, in particular as “pay-back” for the Christian crusades from a thousand years ago. A central piece of that theological plan is to remove all “infidels” in their midst, i.e. the Jewish presence in Israel. For the moment, Israel is not directly involved in this particular conflict, apart from monitoring things on the Golan Heights. However, it seems likely, if the other forces in the world do not find a way to neutralize if not eliminate this group, sometime, sooner than later, Israel will have to become involved.
Meanwhile, as we see increasingly in the news, attacks on Jewish communities in Europe and elsewhere in the world have been dramatically on the rise. Most of it stems from the Islamic influence on world events manifested in France, and now, days before writing this piece, sadly and ironically, in Denmark, of all countries, given its history of protecting its Jewish citizens from the Nazis during World War II.
And we, at CBI, here in Solano County, are keeping even more heightened watch on our own security (thank you Marc North and Roy Barush for heading up that effort and keeping close touch with law enforcement).
All of this makes Purim particularly relevant in terms of its message, as the first and primary Diaspora holiday in the Jewish system. Jewish continuity is grounded not only in a value system of teaching each generation to create caring community wherever we live but also in an understanding that since the time of the Pharaoh that did not know Joseph and thereby inspired our efforts and ultimate success to leave Egypt and head to Israel, (the Passover story), we have had to be cautious in all of the lands we called home. The irony of Purim being a happy holiday of laughter and joy is in its “masking”, i.e. costumes we wear, the sadness that Haman’s attack on the Persian Jews, who dwelled there as mostly assimilated citizens of Shushan and all the 127 provinces, was unnecessary and unwarranted, as has been the case of attacks on Jews throughout the ages. In commemorating such attacks, many Jewish communities in Europe created their own Purims in appreciation for surviving Pogroms, when they were fortunate to stay alive.
Sometimes, in a dark time and in unnerving circumstances, the best medicine is laughter, and that is what we will do as we celebrate this holiday together. In so doing, we must not lose sight that the world is an increasingly dangerous place, and one of our blessings is in having each other to be of support and to celebrate life, when and where we can, together.
How “sad” that the nervous laughter of Purim, especially this year, is not primarily a “ritual” observance of continuity and tradition. It is a reminder to stay awake, stay alert, count blessings each day for whatever goes well and look for ways to address the ills of the world and strive for the day when we can enjoy Purim without having to worry so deeply about its ongoing message: since the times of Pharaoh, the world has been a dangerous place for Jews and all peoples that are perceived as threats to groups that refuse to tolerate or accommodate those that are different from them.