The key to understanding the meaning of Purim lies in Haman’s denunciations against the Jews in Esther 3:8: “Their laws are different from every other nation, and they do not observe the King’s laws.” King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple because the Judeans had rebelled. Haman was proposing to destroy the Jews only because they and their laws were “different”—a charge that would echo throughout the centuries.
The Book of Esther represents a turning point in Jewish history: the invention of anti-Semitism and the demonization of the Jews, whose laws were different and who were scattered throughout the lands. Purim remains and will remain, because of the accusation that “Their laws are different!” has over the centuries metastasized into today’s modern anti-Semitism.
The celebration of Purim, based on the events of the biblical Book of Esther, centers on the first explicit instance of anti-Semitism in recorded history. Nearly two thousand years later, anti-Semitism continues to be a significant global phenomenon, with daily acts of anti-Semitism being perpetrated almost everywhere in the Western World as evidenced by recent incidents in Poland, in France, in England and throughout Europe.
Just one week ago, this reality was broadcasted to millions of homes, when a Florida High School with a 40 % Jewish student population was the victim of a mass shooting massacre in which 17 students and teachers were murdered and 14 injured by an avowed and known anti-Semite.
Florida is home to nearly 1 million Jews, making it the state with the third biggest Jewish population after New York and California. While town records state that only 1.26% of Parkland is Jewish, members of the Parkland Jewish community were quick to point out that the listed demographics only take into account religious Jews. The majority of the Jewish population is secular or ethnically and culturally Jewish but not religiously, and according to members of the Jewish community would not have self-identified themselves as Jews in the census. According to a local rabbi, Parkland "is a small community where nearly half the population is Jewish”.
According to the FBI, 1.7% of Americans are Jewish, but last year 54.2% of religiously motivated hate crimes were against Jews and 11.5% of overall hate crimes were against Jews. Ironically, the denial of the Jewish aspect of the Parkland massacre seems to be a conscious decision on the part of the Jewish community and their leaders. According to reports over the past week, the memorial for the dead students and teachers, located at Pine Trails Park, consists of 17 crosses, one to represent each of the dead. It baffles the mind to "honor" Jewish students in death with symbols of another faith, and yet no one from the Jewish community has raised any objections to this pavlovian response of denying the Jewish identity of the victims. The Jewish media, broadcasted and printed have done little to highlight this phenomenon.
Many members of the Parkland community, in partnership with students and families all over the country, have transformed their grief and bereavement into activism. The students behind "March For Our Lives" have taken to the streets to demand that their “lives and safety become a priority” in order to “end violence and mass shootings” in schools. However, little if any serious discussion has been put forward to examine whether this massacre was an anti-Semitic hate crime.
This “gentlemen’s agreement” of silence and denial represses the vast undercurrent of anti-Semitism that is more widespread among the American public than we are willing to admit or address publically. One can no longer blame a loud minority for much of the anti-Semitism being expressed freely in social media. The unhindered hatred of Jews has become a daily occurrence due to the silence of the silent majority. This rampant casualness towards anti-Semitism and dismissive attitudes towards hate crimes against Jews are no less dangerous, and should be “outed” for what they are; bordering on complicity.
There is more than enough evidence to warrant a discussion about the possibility of the Douglas High School shooting being an anti-Semitic hate crime. We need to get past the mentality that if we don’t make an issue over this turn of events, the anti-Semitic undercurrents will blow over and just go away. They won’t.
For many of my Jewish brethren in America, the parallel between the story of Purim and the anti-Semitic tsunami being felt everywhere might seem a cause for despair. Anti-Semitism, it seems, cannot be eradicated entirely. While that may be true that it is impossible to vanquish irrational Jew-hatred altogether, it seems to me that the Purim story actually offers some important lessons about successfully responding to overt and complacent anti-Semitism in our time.
Enlist and encourage allies. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, teaches: Jews cannot fight anti-Semitism alone. The victim cannot cure the crime... Therefore, if we think there is something we alone can do to cure anti-Semitism, we are making a great mistake. We have to stand together to fight hate; not Jews alone, but every single person who cares for the sanctity of life and for a free and just and tolerant society. We must gather allies, because the hatred of Jews is the hatred of difference, which is the hatred of humanity. That is why we must stand together to fight hate in all its forms.
Strengthen and support Israel. That the Purim story is the first-ever account of anti-Semitism and the first biblical tale to chronicle the events of a Jewish community living in the Diaspora, without political sovereignty, is no coincidence. In the final analysis, it is impossible to know how the Purim story would have played out if there had been a sovereign Jewish state at that time. But our history testifies to the fact that though we may be free and prosperous elsewhere, Jews as a people are ultimately weaker without the ability to assert control over our own national future and provide for our own security.
For this reason, the State of Israel, is essential for world Jewry. It is the only sure refuge in the world for Jews in distress. Israel not only protects those Jews who choose to live within its borders; it also plays an important role in enabling Diaspora Jews to feel empowered to live and practice our faith free of fear.
Purim, as portrayed in the Book of Esther, bridges the past with today’s persistent reality of anti-Semitism. It is a reminder of the critical importance of a strong and independent State of Israel, and a reminder for Jews everywhere that they should never deny nor ignore the dangerous of anti-Semitism.
The writer, a 25-year veteran of the I.D.F., served as a field mental health officer. Prior to retiring in 2005, served as the Commander of the Central Psychiatric Military Clinic for Reserve Soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty, he provides consultancy services to NGO’s implementing Psycho trauma and Psycho education programs to communities in the North and South of Israel. Ron is a former strategic advisor at the Office of the Chief Foreign Envoy of Judea and Samaria