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Purim 5779: Anti-Semitism

03/28/2019 02:07:00 PM


Rabbi Daniel Dorsch

For one reason alone--and that reason is anti-Semitism--more than any other year, Purim seemed a lot more real to me than it has in a long time.

Perhaps, each year that we read the story of Esther, we tend to think of it as a tale that took place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away. We relegate Purim into a children’s holiday, or a bedtime story. There was a bad man a long time ago. But don’t worry, I tell my kids, he lived a long time ago. And yes, he wanted to destroy the Jews. But don’t worry he lived overseas. There weren’t boats that could get to America then. Purim took place in a Persian empire that has long since fallen. And the bad man failed, we tell our children, in his efforts because two brave Jews stood up and saved the Jewish people. And each year that we hear this story we reassure ourselves. Yeah, yeah. That’s a really nice folktale. It’s a lovely story. Now, we eat little cookies shaped like the hat of the bad guy with prune inside of them, whose link to the holiday is questionable at best. The word mun means poppy, toshen are the Yiddish word for pockets, meaning that we eat poppy pocket cookies, now filled with Nutella. The rabbis tell us as adults, not to worry on Purim so much, but to have a drink or two or three. And so we don’t worry, we tell ourselves. Purim is a holiday for children to dress up as Spider Man or Wonder Woman. It is a story about being brave in a time of need. It happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away.

But this year, as I plug into the world, and there is so much news about anti-Semitism, I wonder to myself. I wonder how many other generations of Jews told themselves and their children the same thing: that Purim was nothing more than a children’s story with costumes, and a holiday for children to come to shul. Not for grown adults. And I wonder how many other generations of Jews paid the price because they did not heed its true message, which is, I am sorry to say, that at any given moment, the wrong kind of person, one wicked advisor, one Amalekite, if given the keys to the car could turn the ignition, and if we are not vigilant, the whole thing could fall apart. Gidal HaMelech Achashverosh et Haman. In a moment’s notice Haman could rise again to power.

  1. years ago, Tony Blair, a great friend of Israel, was the Prime Minister of England and the head of the labor party. Now it is Jeremy Corbyn, who according to a British Equalities and Human Rights Commission, may have “breached discrimination laws” because of the way he speaks about Jews. According to a new poll, by the way, 40% of people living in the U.K. admit that they’ve heard the word anti-Semitism, but have no idea what it means. The U.K., who were once the leaders of the fight against Nazism. Now of the country wouldn’t even have had a clue what they were fighting for. years ago, Turkey was a strategic ally and partner of Israel. In 2008, I got on a plane for Chanukkah break, and like many Israelis and I spent time traveling in Istanbul. Welcome! We love Jewish people here, we love Israeli tourism, so many of them told me. They hung signs in Hebrew in their shops in the Grand Bazaar. A little over ten years later, so many of those wonderful Turks have become our friends in Alpharetta at the Istanbul Mosque and Cultural Center, having fled the country under the oppressive regime of just one man: Recep Erdogan. Another avowed anti-Semite. A modern Amalekite, who goes out of his way to hate Israel and Jews. Ten years ago, I suspect, no member of the U.S. Congress would have been so brazen, so publicly as to declare that American support for Israel was bought and sold rather than what it actually is: values and faith driven. Ten years ago, no member of U.S. Congress would have accused the Jews of being loyal to a foreign country over their own. Yet Representative Ilhan Omar has had no problem tweeting this not only once before she entered office, but twice when she started, and then a third time at a meeting, with seemingly no real ramifications to her status in congress at all. And make no mistake, she is not the only one to feel the way she does. Gidal HaMelech Achashverosh Et Haman: All of a sudden, Haman has risen into power.

Friends we want so desperately as Jews for anti-Semitism to go away. We want so desperately to banish it to the dustbin of history. We so desperately want Purim to be nothing more than a children’s story or a schpiel or Etz Chaim’s Got Talent. We want so desperately for Haman and the destruction of his family to have been the destruction of anti-Semitism. But each year we are reminded that as comfortable as we feel here, as beloved as we are here, that this simply an impossibility. 100 years ago in Marietta is was Leo Frank. Who knows what it will be ten or even 100 years from now. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg once called anti-Semitism “the longest-running, most widely adopted, social pathology in human history.”

In each generation, wrote Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, on the occasion of a Kristallnacht commemoration in 1957, “ modern man harbors the illusion that humanity has reached a point in civilization where progress should take place automatically.” But “Kristallnacht,” he reminds us shatters such illusions. Today, I would argue that whether we like it or not, Purim and the megillah, this year especially, serve the very same purpose. Because while Purim on the whole, is a time for celebration, and we toast to Mordechai and Esther, and, to paraphrase the illustrious Billy Joel, Purim allows us “to forget about life for a while,” we must never as Jews forget how real the threat remains. Governments, countries, boundary lines may change. People may even change. But the archetypes of our Megillah remain the same. Even if, perhaps, a little more egalitarian than before.

There will always be a foolish leader, susceptible to anti-Semitism. There will always be a wise hero or heroine, and a cassanova who find their way into power. But let us also not forget that there will always be a wicked advisor, a Cobryn, an Erdogan, and Omar, an Amalekite waiting to strike against the Jews at precisely moment when we have relegated Purim into a story for children. When we see it as a fairy tale and nothing more, or when we see it as a story that took place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away.

May we never forget this year, just how real Purim actually is.

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Mon, June 1 2020 9 Sivan 5780