The Jewish world will soon be observing the holiday of Purim. I said “observing” when truth be known, we Jews don’t just “observe” Purim; we CELEBRATE it! We dress in costume. We hold the most raucous, noisiest worship service of the year. We sing and we shout and we stomp our feet. We eat and we drink (and I am not just talking about iced tea or punch but the hard stuff, for on Purim the Talmud commands us to drink so much that we can no longer tell the difference between “cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordecai.”). And then, of course there is the Purim Seudah (feast – in our case, a pizza dinner) and the ever popular Carnival. We eat hamantaschen, send shlach manot (food gifts to our loved ones) and matanot le’evyonim (gifts to the poor). It is Mardi Gras, New Year’s Eve, that December season of giving whose name we never mention, all rolled up into one. It is one heck of a party and we fondly carry our childhood memories of it with us throughout our lives.
Yet somehow or other, in the midst of all our partying, we can often forget why we party so; what is the cause of the celebration?
The answer is wrapped in a sinister cloud. It is dark and it is painful. For Purim commemorates our victory over antisemitism. It celebrates the defeat of Haman – the Hitler of his day – whose goal it was to accomplish nothing short of a genocide of the Jewish people. So we party hardy as an affirmation of life in what was supposed to be the face of a certain and horrible death. Purim is the personification of the old saying, “The definition of every Jewish holiday is: They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat!”
Today, most of us intentionally avoid these more somber thoughts when it comes to Purim. We choose to focus on the joy rather than on the fear.
Unfortunately, this year, at least some of that fear seems to be unavoidable for we have been forced to confront the fact that antisemitism is real and alive in our nation as well as in the rest of the world. Over the last 72 hours the news media has “discovered” that antisemitism really exists in the United States. The dramatic vandalism of the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, with the desecration of over 100 gravestones, along with the addition of 11 more bomb threats to Jewish community centers (bringing the number up to 59 if my math and facts are correct), coupled with the President’s bizarre reticence to address the very issue of antisemitism or to even mention Jews in his statement about Holocaust memorial, and his finally condemning (though weakly) the acts of antisemitism, have forced not only the President but the mainstream media to acknowledge this elephant in the room, if only for the moment. But as we all should know, this issue is an even greater one that many are willing to admit. And these are only the stories that the mainstream media has picked up on. For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you know that since 2014 I have been reporting, almost on an daily basis, various acts of antisemitism that have taken place in our country and around the world. I know that there are those that have found my “Antisemitism in Action” reports to be somewhat irritating and alarmist for our lives have been good lives and we generally don’t live in fear. But still, these attacks upon our people are real and they have been real for some time now. Unfortunately, they will continue to be real after this current news cycle ends and the stories of antisemitism once again fade from the headlines.
Obviously, there is nothing new about antisemitism. It has been with us for at least 2,000 years. Over that time it has taken on nuanced changes but at its core, it has essentially remained the same and, of course, its impact upon the Jewish people has most certainly remained the same. It matters but little what excuse the antisemites give for despising us, for degrading us, and for persecuting us, in the end it all results in the same suffering, ranging from humiliation to extermination.
That being said, today what we are experiencing in America is not the same singular hatred that has marked most of the history of antisemitism. Rather, today’s American antisemitism is but one component of a complex dynamic of American hatred that has found its voice and has felt profoundly empowered over the past year, especially in the wake of the recent presidential campaign. For today’s American antisemitism is intimately and inextricably connected to a web of hatred which includes racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, and sexism (and probably a few other bigotries I forgot to mention). For quite some time now I have been fond of saying, “Those who hate tend to be equal opportunity haters.” Today in America those “equal opportunity haters” are sensing a new liberation as they are stepping out of the shadows and coming out from under their rocks to assert their prejudices upon our society, and Jew hatred is but one of those prejudices.
But all this should not get us down. After all, soon it will be Purim and we will be celebrating; celebrating vigorously. Why will we be celebrating while bomb threats may be continuing to roll in and perhaps other Jewish cemeteries will be desecrated? We will be celebrating because, just as our history has shown us, no matter what they try to do to us, in the end we will win. We will win because it is our right to win. We will win because there are too many good people in this world to allow evil to prosper.
There is an old Midrash about two men on a lake in a rowboat. One of them takes out a drill and starts boring under his seat. The other, in distress, calls out to him: “What do you think you are doing?” The fellow replies: “What do you care? It’s none of your business. I’m drilling under my own seat!” The moral is that we are all in this boat together – sink or swim. We cannot afford to focus solely on the prejudices that attack us personally. We must ban together – all victims of prejudice, along with all people of good conscience – and confront the current hatred in all of its forms, standing up for each other and standing with each other in common purpose.
If we ban together with others of good conscience in opposition to ALL forms of bigotry, including antisemitism, then we will win because we will not let the purveyors of hatred win. We will stand up to them and we will defeat them, in much the same manner that Mordecai & Esther defeated Haman. Each of us will just have to choose to be the Mordecai and the Esther of today. HAPPY PURIM!!!!!!!
 Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megillah 7b.