The Purim story has a happy ending. But Jewish history has other stories that do not end quite as happily. We would be wise to learn the Purim story well to understand what caused the turnabout that saved the Jews. It just may help us deal with the storm clouds gathering on our horizon.
Something about this Purim bothered me. It seemed too relevant. Once again, a Persian Haman has emerged – Haman-nejad (nejad or nezhad is a Persian suffix meaning “descendant of”), who has again made the existence of Israel a topic for debate. Some say that the world is better off with Israel, and others say that the world is better off without Israel. “Enlightened” academia has not yet decided, but it looks like the scales are tipping in favor of a world without Israel.
These days are reminiscent of the 30s. The giddy optimism after World War I was gradually replaced by the foul winds of anti-Semitism and hatred. Slowly but surely, the enlightened world surrendered to the new fashion. Weak politicians made peace with the trend. Frightened Jews closed themselves in their neighborhoods as violent anti-Semitic incidents became routine. The establishment explained that the Jews must ride the murky wave – and that with time, it would pass.
When I was a boy, I was taught that another Holocaust cannot happen because we have a state. This line of thinking was bolstered by religious Zionist determinism that declared that the redemption process was a given. I always found comfort in the thought that while the State of Israel could bring suffering upon itself, its existence was guaranteed. Today, I no longer think so. The redemption is certainly guaranteed, but on one of the declines on the path that leads to redemption, we can certainly lose our state – at a terrible price.
Every physical holocaust must be preceded by delegitimization and dehumanization of the intended victims. The murder of six million Jews would not have been possible if not for the fact that it was preceded by the negation of their honor and basic human rights. The Persian tyrant’s nuclear plans are not as dangerous as the public debate that he has managed to arouse and the “Jewish Question” that has once again found its way into public discourse.
The average Israeli prefers to hide his head in the sand and trust Israel’s leadership to deal with the problem. Outside Israel, anyone who does not look too Jewish can still feel fairly comfortable. But that is precisely the syndrome of 1938: the threat is so horrific that the average person cannot integrate it – and chooses to ignore it instead.
This is not a problem that will go away if we ignore it. If you read the Scroll of Esther, you will understand what made Haman hate the Jews. Then listen to Haman-nejad and you will find the same paradigm.
The story of Purim begins with a feast that King Achashveirosh hosted in his palace, a celebration of his royal decree forbidding the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In honor of the auspicious event, Achashveirosh invited the Jews of his capital, Shushan, to celebrate. He made sure that the Holy Temple vessels that had been stolen by the Babylonians when they destroyed the Temple were prominently on display.
The Jews were flattered to be invited, and wanted to prove that they were good Persians. They relished the opportunity to rub shoulders with Persian high society. That is where Haman stepped in. If you look at the caricatures in the Nazi Der Sturmer, you will see that the assimilated German Jew aroused the same disgust as the German Amalek.
And what does Haman-nejad say? He says that he has no problem with the Jews. He only has a problem with the Zionists. “It is a shame what the Germans did to the Jews,” he says. “So let the Austrians and Germans find them a place to live in Europe – not at the expense of the Palestinians.” And between us, the Foreign Ministry of the “Singapore of the Middle East” has a hard time explaining why the modern-day Haman is mistaken. If we are not a Jewish state, but rather a state of all its citizens, then what right do we have to act like colonialists?
In Tel Aviv, we hear this: “It is all the settlers’ fault. We will eliminate their settlements and everything will work out.” There were German Jews who also thought that the hatred they were experiencing was because of the Ost Yidden – the Eastern (Polish) Jews. About a year ago, I read an interview with German Jewish Holocaust survivors who are still convinced that the horrors that they experienced could have been prevented if not for the Ost Yidden.