Monday, April 15, 2024 -
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Purim in wartime

We are, it seems, at an emotional crossroads. How do we celebrate the most joyful and raucous of Jewish holidays when there is a tragic scarcity of joy in our lives?

Purim characters depicted on the cover of a 1955 'World Over' children's magazine. (Magnes Collection of Jewish Art, UC Berkeley)

Purim characters depicted on the cover of a 1955 ‘World Over’ children’s magazine. (Magnes Collection of Jewish Art, UC Berkeley)

Furthermore, when Purim arrives on March 23, should we allow ourselves to be upbeat, despite the pall of Oct. 7 that still hovers over us and the war that continues?

This answer from Rabbi Yaakov Meyer of Aish of the Rockies:

“Maimonides writes a very well-known statement that mankind is affected by his actions, so if he acts in a certain way, there’s a good chance that he’ll get to feel that way.

“Whatever the proper definition of acting joyously is, one should act joyously and continue acting joyously, even if they’re not feeling joyous at the time. That will affect them to be able to feel the joy of the moment of the day.”

B’nai Havurah will celebrate Purim as it does every year, with a costume parade and carnival, a traditional festive dinner and Megillah reading.

“Even though we might think of Purim as a children’s holiday for costumes and cookies, it is actually rooted in a very dark story drawn from a very dark time,” said Rabbi Katie Mizrachi.

“This year we find ourselves in a dark time as well, when anti-Semitism is rising, and a war breaks our hearts in so many ways.

“We will have kids stuff and a great party for sure, but our shpiel is going to explore some of the complexities of how defeating hate is not just a simple matter of the good guys beating the bad guys.

“We plan to laugh, but we also plan to explore the story in ways that have some spiritual gravitas.”

At Jewish in the City Chabad, Rabbi Zalman Popack and co-founder Rivka Leah Popack are promoting an Israeli campaign to bring Shalach Manot and Matanot L’evyonim to the families of soldiers in Israel.

“Our enemies have sought to extinguish the Jewish flame, to snuff out the Jewish spirit, to break us as a people,” said Rabbi Popack.

“In response, together with our brethren and fellow Jewish communities world-wide, we are resolved to come together this Purim with more unity, with more Jewish pride and with a stronger Jewish presence than ever before.

“No doubt when we hear the Megillah we will consider the Hamans of the past as well as the Hamans in our own time.”

As for the struggle to be “guilt free” during Purim:

“To experience a joyless Purim would be to allow our enemies the ultimate victory; the triumph of terror, the vanquishing of our Jewish spirit,” said Rabbi Popack.

“Our joy this year will be a joy that transcends the grief we all feel intensely, a joy that comes from the same place where miracles are born.

“In the merit of our joy, may this Purim story, unfolding in our time, be immediately revealed to show miracles of peace, healing and safety for all Jews and the entire world.”

Jews have experienced Purim during wartime in the post-WW II era. The Gulf War ended on Feb. 28, 1991, the same night as Purim. There was lots of congregational angst in advance of Purim that year, as Tel Aviv was bombarded by 39 Saudi scud missiles.

Now, there’s a different villain, starting with the same capital H; Hamas, in addition to Haman.

This year’s Purim should come along with personal prayers aside from what we say twice a day in synagogue for the well-being of the hostages and the soldiers,” said Rabbi Meyer.

“Purim is the opportunity to think about the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people,” Meyer said. “It’s supposed to spur us on to thinking about the lives of the Jewish people in exile now. The last time this comes to mind, although it wasn’t quite the same that we had recently, was Purim of 1991 when Saddam was shooting scud missiles at Israel.

“When Purim ended, the war ended.”

At DJDS, Purim programming in 2024 will be business as usual. That will not be the case when Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut arrive in May.

“I am providing input on those programs to our faculty because a new and careful approach is most definitely called for this year,” said Avi Halzel, DJDS’ head of school.

That’s for another story. For now, Rabbi Meyer hopes that Purim 2024 marks somewhat of a resurgence in synagogue-going.

“I personally am somewhat saddened by the fact that there aren’t more people who are non-regular attendees, coming to shul on Shabbat,” said Meyer. “What better way to join the Jewish people in prayer and feel united and feel camaraderie amongst the Jewish people, which is something that they’re aiming for in Israel.

“This is a time where more Jews should come together as a people, not just in talk, but in practice. In Israel, that certainly has happened.

“Of course, there are more Jews there now than there are here, which is amazing. It’s the first time in 2,000 years where there are more Jews in Israel than there are in any other single country in the world.

“I go back to 1991. I remember how people came together for prayer. When the war started, people got together one night for prayer at least once a week. Judaism is not a one day a year thing, and I’m not talking about Yom Kippur.

“This is a great time for people who usually don’t come, to hear perhaps the message that the rabbi has to give about this and to come and celebrate with other Jews, and at the same time feel the pain of our brethren at the same time as we are celebrating as a people.”

Copyright © 2024 by the Intermountain Jewish News


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