Posted on March 8, 2019 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck
Purim is coming, with all its joy and festivity. We will dress up, sing songs, eat hamantaschen, drink wine (as tradition dictates), and celebrate with gusto. A good time will be had by all!
It is important to remember, however, that the reason for all this frivolity is the story recounted in the megillah of how our people in Persia so very narrowly averted disaster. It is a dark and troubling tale of hatred and victimization of a people – our people – for the unforgivable crime of being different. As was so often the case throughout our history, the Jews of Persia were outsiders — others — tolerated at best, our security utterly dependent on the goodwill of the sovereign. Our existence there was precarious, as it has been in so many other times and places. We had no rights and no allies to stand up for us. Were it not for serendipitous good luck and the courage of Esther and Mordechai, we surely would have perished.
This year, as Purim arrives, Jews around the world are feeling more vulnerable and fearful than we have in years. Incidents of anti-Semitism, violence, and vandalism against Jews and Jewish institutions have increased markedly in recent times, and not just in Europe and South America. Here in America, hate crimes against Jews are on the rise. Ever since the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., we American Jews have been anxious, and the shock and grief we feel over the murderous attack in Pittsburgh is still palpable. American Jewry made a bet with our lives and those of our children that America would be different from any other place in the Diaspora – that here we would be safe, secure, and fully at home. But many have begun to question whether this is, indeed, true.
I share the concerns of those who are fearful, but I believe that America is different in a number of significant ways. First is the fact that America is grounded in universal rights and freedoms for all its citizens. Like all minorities, our place in this land is vouchsafed by laws that protect us from discrimination and victimization. This cannot prevent evil people from doing harm, but, unlike throughout most of our history, it puts the weight of the law and law enforcement behind us and behind all who are targets of hate.
Second, and equally important, is the fact that Jews in America are not alone. Here we have allies. We saw this so powerfully when the faith community joined with us in solidarity after Pittsburgh. Together with many of our elected officials, people of different faiths and goodwill came to demonstrate their love and support for us, as Americans and as Jews. They came to stand with us and to assure us that they will stand with us, and by us, come what may. They came to declare that, in America, we cherish and celebrate our diversity and our differences.
Ten different religions and many denominations of those faiths were represented at that vigil, and we felt the power of our unity. We feel it still, undiminished. In fact, it has grown even stronger. So much so that the coalition that gathered on an ad hoc basis to stand against hate in April 2017, for environmental responsibility in October 2017, and in solidarity with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh in October 2018 has agreed to formalize ties and form the Interfaith Community Action Network (ICAN). Its mission is to bring our multi-faith community together in partnership with our civic leaders to stand for causes and issues of concern that impact our shared values and humanity as children of God. Our next joint effort will be on April 28, when we will be holding a forum on Youth Mental Health at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Somerville, at 2:00 p.m.
So, let the joy flow freely this Purim in celebration of our deliverance from harm in ancient days, and equally in celebration of the freedom we are blessed with in this great nation, where we are part of a community of caring and compassion that embraces everyone of every faith and creed, race, gender, sexual orientation, and nationality. May we never fail to cherish our friendship and solidarity as one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.
Chag Purim sameach!
Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck
Originally published in the March-April 2019 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.