AP NEWS

Forum on Faith:

March 29, 2019

Jews throughout the world just celebrated the Festival of Purim. Unlike Passover or the High Holy Days, Purim is “relaxed,” in the sense that it often involves costumes, spoofs, festive music and hamentaschen pastries.

With its exuberance and innocence, it is a holy day without sermons or scolding, without suits or ties.

It is so associated with masquerade, carnivals, candy and even drinking, that it is easy to forget how truly foreboding the tone of the Purim readings can be. The Megillah (the scroll from the Book of Writings in the Bible) is read in its entirety at Purim. Like much of contemporary Jewish life, the themes of Purim, which come through in the reading of the Megillah, are ancient, haunted, and, tragically, still current.

The Megillah is a reminder that hatred of Jews is older than even the word “anti-Semitism” (coined centuries later), and is sanitized compared to the threat of total annihilation that Haman, the villain of the story, posed to the Jewish people. He would have perpetrated a murder of innocent Jews throughout the 127 lands from Persia to Ethiopia.

The Jews back in Haman’s time were looking at state-sponsored annihilation, not unlike the Holocaust that occurred in Europe just 75 years ago. And it is still in the political language of Iran at this very moment. As with all anti-Semitism there is no reason, no logic, no justification, for its existence.

For all of our concern with rising anti-Semitism here at home now - from the far right, the far left, and even from members of Congress - it is still important to maintain a sense of historical context. There are even reasons to feel encouraged.

For instance, Jews once feared the Church. Now no one is more fervent or supportive of Israel than Evangelical Christians. Just a generation ago, Russian Jews, who taught the Alef-Bet (the Hebrew alphabet), were sent to prison camps in Siberia; today, Russian President Vladimir Putin, for all his dangers, allows yeshivot (religious schools) and Jewish institutions to exist, if not to flourish, throughout the former Soviet Union.

In our own town of Danbury, I am proud to call Muslims in our community my brothers and sisters, and we work together at the Association of Religious Communities (ARC) in common purpose and friendship, and we mourned together recently the horrible tragedy in New Zealand.

Not long ago, Jews were kept out of universities, hotels, social clubs and neighborhoods. Seldom, if not rarely, is that ever experienced today. And yet, anti-Semitism seems to never, ever, go away. Anti-Semitic crimes top the FBI hate crime chart every year of the 21st century, under every President. And in Europe, anti-Semitism is often violent and dangerous, and it is on the rise.

The Megillah can be interpreted as espousing the use of deep diplomacy to ward off destruction. The two Jewish heroes, Mordechai and Esther, don’t take up the sword; they use their wits to defeat Haman. But, at the end of the story - the part that we often find difficult to read - they did take up arms to defend themselves and kill those who rose up against them.

Today, in Israel, I applaud the decision of our President to add his voice to the annexation of the Golan Heights. I lived in the City of Tiberias, near the Sea of Galillee, where Syrian snipers from 1948 until June 1967 fired incessantly at Jewish settlements, towns and individuals. Only now, under Jewish control, is that area free of terrorism.

In addition, thousands and thousands of Muslim victims of the Syrian Civil War have been treated by Israeli physicians there, in the City of Kuneitra on the border of the Golan Heights. Jews then, and Jews now, never forget our humanity. The Esthers and Mordechais among us today are still taking professional and political risks.

I think the Megillah, promising a happy ending to a difficult story, offers humanity a remedy - unity, spirituality, grace to the poor, to each other, gratitude to Jews for their incredible contributions to the betterment of the world, and the promise that God and goodness are still among us, even if sometimes unseen. The lesson of Purim is for all of us, even now.

Rabbi Jon Haddon is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Shearith Israel in Ridgefield and a member of the Board of Directors of ARC.