Why We Need Purim Now More than Ever

Beth Chaim travelers marking our first ever trip to Israel with a visit to the Western Wall

What a trip it has been!  Our first ever Beth Chaim Reform Congregation trip to Israel is now complete. While in Israel, I purchased a beautiful necklace inscribed with the words from Mishna Avot 2:5, wisdom from Rabbi Hillel. They translate as follows: In a place where there are no human beings, strive to be human. 

I needed this trip.  I needed a break from the vitriol and hate speech that has characterized our presidential election cycle.  I will wear Rabbi Hillel's words like a reminder around my neck, to remind myself that it is my Jewish obligation to stand up for those who are marginalized in our country, to use my voice to cry out against hate. 

I also needed to be in Israel, with these 25 travelers, most of whom who were there for the very first time. It was a joy to see them discover Israel and Israelis on their own terms. To be with them when they began to wrestle with the complexity of the land, and the political situation not through the eyes of the media, but through their own eyes. Too many times, in our media, Israel is portrayed as a place where there are no human beings.  That is, the Israelis are unfairly portrayed as oppressors with no regard for human rights.  When we were in Israel, walking the streets, dealing directly with the issues, meeting the people, learning the history, our travelers were able to see that Israel and Israelis do not live in a world of choices that are black and white. They have to work extremely hard to live by democratic values in a Middle Eastern neighborhood that too often is incredibly dangerous and inhospitable.  Rabbi Hillel's injunction to treat people humanely, especially in a place where too often others are not acting with humanity in mind, is really put to the test today in modern Israel.

And then of course, there is Purim.  We were fortunate to be in Jerusalem in the days just before Purim, the holiday which is full of fun and frivolity, but really has a very serious message.  Haman was ready to exterminate all of the Jews of Shushan.  Esther and her cousin Mordechai found themselves in a place where humanity was devalued, and they were called to stand up and speak truth to power, striving to affirm the humanity of a people that were threatened.  It was not easy for Esther to surrender her place of comfort, and to take action. But she understood that she had been chosen just for this important task.

In a place where people are not acting humanely, we must all strive to be human.  These days after the explosions in Belgium, Paris, San Bernadino are scary days. We understand what Israelis feel every day. There are evil people in our world, who would rob innocents of their lives, and have us live in fear.  We also have forces in our own country who would trade upon that fear, using scapegoating tactics to seduce us into hating others. But we are taught that each person is a human being, created in the image of God. Our fear and hatred cannot blind us to that truth.

So we celebrate Purim with fun and silliness and with joy, for that is also a human need. But under the frivolity is a serious and important message from Rabbi Hillel.

In a place where no one is acting like human beings, our task is to strive to affirm our own humanity and the humanity of others. 

Chag Purim Sameach