Today is the first of the Hebrew month of Adar, the month associated more than any other with joy and happiness. And in two weeks, our joy increases when we celebrate Purim, which presents our Jewish story in a nutshell: In the year 482 B.C.E., the Jews of the Persian Empire faced death, decreed by King Achashverosh, for not assimilating. "There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the other people in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king's laws and it is not in your majesty's interest to tolerate them." (Megillat Esther 3:9). The plot, instigated by Haman, the king’s evil vizier, urged the people to initiate a bloodbath and to loot and kill the Jews on the 15th day of the month of Adar.
Two views, One people
Mishenichnas Adar marbim b’simcha– “When the month of Adar arrives we should increase our joy”
Today is the first of the Hebrew month of Adar, the month associated more than any other with joy and happiness. And in two weeks, our joy increases when we celebrate Purim, which presents our Jewish story in a nutshell: In the year 482 B.C.E., the Jews of the Persian Empire faced death, decreed by King Achashverosh, for not assimilating. “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the other people in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws and it is not in your majesty’s interest to tolerate them.” (Megillat Esther 3:9). The plot, instigated by Haman, the king’s evil vizier, urged the people to initiate a bloodbath and to loot and kill the Jews on the 15th day of the month of Adar.
What made Haman so angry, to initiate such a decree? What had the Jews done to deserve this bloodshed? Perhaps Haman held a deep understanding of our Jewish story. He and his counterparts, other enemies of the Jews, have understood throughout history that the survival and triumph of Jews has been born of our persistence, our determination, our unity and our commitment to tradition and heritage.
Seeing the Jews led by Mordechai, holding onto their beliefs and customs as a unified people meant one thing to Haman—they could not be defeated.
This is at the heart of Purim and why this holiday has remained relevant ever since.
Today, 2,498 years later Jews are still a certain people scattered and dispersed among the other people in all the provinces of realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people.
Purim 2016 will be celebrated across the Jewish world with great appreciation for our Jewish sovereign State, for our ongoing ability to be one and united despite being scattered and dispersed. But North American Jews of 2016 and Israelis of 2016 differ on one of the most crucial issues that we face. It is one that is the cause of an ongoing bleeding conflict since the rebirth of the State of Israel. Israelis and American Jews differ in the way they interpret the Israeli relationship, or more accurately, lack of relationship, with the Palestinians. The majority of Jews in North America, especially younger Jews, strongly objects to the settlement movement and consider it to be an obstacle to peace. They urge Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians, keep peace at the top of the agenda and strive to solve the conflict. Most Israelis, however, as we see in the recently released survey of Israelis by the Pew Research Center, believe otherwise.
This study was the most comprehensive survey ever conducted in Israel. The survey found that 42 percent of Israelis believe the continued building of West Bank settlements contributes to Israel’s security. These findings are fascinating in light of the growing numbers of young American Jewish college students supporting the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. Where Israelis see security, they see oppression and occupation.
In addition, and perhaps the strongest indication of the differentiation between Israelis and North American Jews is that roughly half of Israeli Jews (48 percent) say Arabs should be transferred or expelled from Israel. In my opinion this is an alarming data, one we should all be concerned with, but for 48% of my fellow Israelis- this is how they feel about co-existence and the future of a two State solution. This data in the minds of North American Jewry is beyond comprehensiveness – being a very small minority among strong democratic states as the US and Canada contradicts any notion of expelling other people.
Despite these growing gaps, Purim’s message hasn’t faded. Most Israeli Jews feel they share a common destiny with North American Jews and believe that American Jews have a good influence on Israeli affairs. For that matter it’s important to note that the 2013 Pew report of U.S. Jews found that most American Jews say they are either “very” (30 percent) or “somewhat” (39 percent) emotionally attached to Israel, and that caring about Israel is either essential or important to what being Jewish means to them.
So yes, Purim is the story of our lives. We keep our Jewish tradition despite being in exile. No enemy can tear that from us; and in it we have found the strength to do more than survive—we thrive. Through persecution and exile, we have persisted, finding unity even when scattered around the globe.
Many of my North American Jewish friends have shared with me their concern regarding Israelis’ estrangement from the peace process. They feel that Israel has neglected it, putting it on the back burner. To them I say that we haven’t forgotten peace, we will never give up on it and we shall always pursue it. But life is more challenging than that, and seeking peace can at times be beyond reach.
We pray each day for peace, three times a day. We gave up the Sinai and we evacuated Gaza, forcing Jews to leave homes there. But still there is no peace. We bring trucks filled with supplies to Gaza. We offer medical care to our enemies and treat their sick and injured daily in our hospitals. And still there is no peace. We have attempted to build these bridges and to show good faith. But nonetheless, we haven’t been able to build real, long-lasting bridges that have led to peace.
Perhaps living here through wars and terror, like the current wave that resulted this week in the death of 29-year-old Taylor Force, a U.S. Army veteran and a graduate student at Vanderbilt University. Taylor was killed and 12 people were injured, including his wife, in a chain of terror attacks, the sort of event that makes it very hard for most Israelis to stay optimistic. We are beset by these attacks daily, which unfortunately turns us from idealism to pragmatism. But I refuse to lose hope or see such violence rob us of our dream. It is one that we share with all of you, but a dream that gets harder and harder to sustain when it’s being assaulted every day.
Adar, the month of joy begins today. Anne Frank who perished in the Holocaust in 1945 was able to see joy event through the darkness of her hiding place. If she could, so must we.
Anne wrote: “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”
Chodesh tov, have a great and joyful month and Shabbat shalom
Leah Garber, Vice President. Director, JCC Israel Center