What fun we had celebrating Shabbat Purim at Temple on Friday, March 10, gleefully fulfilling the edict found at the end of the Scroll of Esther (9:21-22):
“They should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same, yearly, the days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning into a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.”
The Purim story is all about incongruity. We face near genocide, and we celebrate. Haman, the villain, describes how to honor an important man, only to learn that the man to be honored is the very person he wishes to destroy, Mordechai. The Jewish people, who are continuously singled out for being different, who do not fit in, provide the winner of the king’s beauty contest, Esther, who becomes the queen.
I marveled at the irony. The joyfulness of our celebration on Friday night came just 24 hours after another round of bomb threats were directed toward the Jewish community. Since January, there have been more than 150 such calls made to JCCs, Jewish day schools, and other Jewish community institutions. In recent weeks, three Jewish cemeteries have also been desecrated with hundreds of gravestones toppled – perhaps to try to topple our sense of security? Done to make us feel vulnerable, to intimidate us into a fear that will drive us away or into passive submission or anonymity? Not a chance! Just look at the story of Purim.
Esther is heroic. She is the modern, assimilated Jew of her day. Faced with genocide, she uses her intellect and political prowess to save her people. In the story of Purim, God plays no part in the rescue and redemption of the Jewish people. The people of God save themselves. The strength of the Jewish people is also evident in the story of Passover, the paradigmatic story of freedom and redemption when we declare we will rise from “degradation to liberation.”
These stories of Purim and Passover have made us – the Jewish people – the champion of the underdog; the voice of the voiceless; and the protector of the widow, orphan, and helpless. We welcome the stranger, not just because we were once strangers, but because shunning them is unjust, and we are a people who seek justice, “Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof … Justice, justice shall you pursue!” Throughout American history, the Jewish people have never backed away from a social justice cause.
What are we to do in the face of anti-Semitism? I say, let the power of Purim pervade! Yes, these are troubling events, which we do not ignore. Yes, we have doubled down on our security, and we are more diligent than ever in safeguarding our community. But the fear and hate mongers have not stopped us at WHC. Our monthly Tot Shabbats are packed at both buildings. A recent 2239 happy hour hit record attendance as did the last Metro Minyan. Our lectures draw larger and larger audiences.
Last weekend was Purim, and we celebrated with the largest crowds we have seen in years. Every generation came to be with us on Friday evening for the Purim Oscars Shabbat dinner, service, and “after party.” Children performed on Sunday morning at Religious School’s Shushan’s Got Talent Showcase and then played at the Animation Celebration Purim Carnival, expertly run by our WHECTY teens.
Yes, we celebrated, danced, and sang on Purim. We remembered Esther’s selfless acts to save her people. We booed Haman because we will always, always find a way to drown out hate! But more, we came and sent a strong message to all who would try to stop us or instill fear. We will not be moved from our resolve to live, to love, and to allow our Judaism to continue to inspire yet another generation to build God’s world. We will fight for a world of justice and peace, a world where the color of your skin and the call of your creed will not be used for degradation.
You threaten us, and we become stronger to protect what we value. You try to intimidate us in anonymous ways, and we will be empowered to stand up against all bigotry and hatred. You preach hate, and we will practice love. You try to spread fear through anti-Semitism, and we will simply choose Faith over Fear every time!
We will stand strong and proud, for it was our own Bible that gave birth to democracy. It inspired our founders to frame our Constitution that guarantees the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to every human being.
What do we do in the face of anti-Semitism? We stand together. I look forward to seeing you in shul. Being there now is a matter of pride and principle!
Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig