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The most esteemed of all the king’s men, dressed in royal robes, his head crowned in jewels, was mounted on the white stallion. Zeresh could never have imagined the rubbish destined for disposal on the disgraceful Jew hauling the royal carriage would land on her own wicked spouse, Haman.
Mistaken identity did not begin in Shushan. Mordechai haYehudi, the man seated on the stallion, the well-known “ish Yemini” celebrated for his strength of character and purpose, refused to bow to the wicked Haman. Mordechai’s ancestral heritage linked him directly to the tribe of Benjamin, the youngest son of the Matriarch Rachel.
Benevolent Rachel, who gave the secret marriage signals she received from Yaakov to her sister Leah, who deceptively became Yaakov’s wife.
Yaakov, who honored his mother Rivka’s command when he dressed in “bigdei Eisav hachamudo,” thereby deceiving his blind father, Yitzchak.
Yitzchak, who felt Eisav’s hands clothed in those special garments, but was puzzled by the voice of his son Yaakov. Still, Yaakov received the coveted blessings of his father.
Jewish identity coupled with destiny: the Torah teaches diverse lessons through many instances of mistaken identity. Grappling with identity is a complex task. Following are some random thoughts, inspired by the question of Jewish identity, that came to mind on a cold and rainy January fast day in Jerusalem.
More than sixty years after the end of World War II, Germany finally agreed to open the vast Archives of Holocaust Documents to the public. Everything any Holocaust victim might ever want to know about himself, his family, and his townsfolk, documented and stored.
The Nazi files contain personal information, pictures, jewelry, labor and transport lists, Gestapo arrest warrants, and more. Unfortunately, millions of victims will never be able to check that documentation. Neither will they ever collect their valuables – their stolen identities.
If Holocaust denial is contemptible to any rationale person, how much more so to someone like Mr. Schwartz, one of the first three survivors to visit the newly opened German archives. His puffy face contorted, his body quivering, he was traumatized by the shocking discovery that on a particular list of names earmarked for transport from Buchenwald to Camp Dora (a rocket armaments factory where almost none survived) his name was one of only two scratched off a list of fifty.
Who crossed it off? Was it mistakenly removed? The knowledge that his life was spared, his destiny altered, by a single pen line through his name is almost impossible to bear.
Through the ages Jews have been earmarked for extinction. Still, I wonder why in this generation some confuse the victim with his oppressor. One has only to see the repulsive photos of men in traditional long black garb – clothing that unfortunately classifies their origin and tribal connection – standing in the reception line applauding and embracing Persia/Iran’s current Haman, to know just how depraved and confused some Jews are.
Another picture that lingers in the mind is that of the warm welcome delivered to a tzorer Yehudim, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, by Israel’s prime minister, who embraced Abbas and Egyptian President Mubarak as though they were true peace-loving partners. And how many generous Israelis are anxious to release murderous prisoners to Hamas, considering such a move “a necessary goodwill gesture” when in fact it is further reinforcement of confused identity?
The Tenth of Tevet, a day of fasting, commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Bavel (present-day Iraq), which led to the destruction of the Temple and the loss of Jewish sovereignty. In our times, especially since the Holocaust, the Tenth of Tevet has become a national day of remembrance, on which Kaddish is recited for Jews whose date and place of death are unknown.
This tragic fast/memorial day was also the birthday of Rabbi Dr. David Yaakov Applebaum, Hashem yikom damo. His daughter Nava’s birthday was the 13th of Adar, the Fast of Esther. A suicide bomber murdered both father and daughter the night before Navah’s wedding. That suicide bomber had been a dangerous security prisoner released as a goodwill gesture by Israel. Shortly after his release, he returned with a belt of explosives around his waist.
Our senseless, confused leaders still have not absorbed the risk of releasing prisoners into PA/Hamas hands.
In memory of the bride who never reached the chuppah, Nava’s pure white wedding dress was restitched and now serves a double purpose. One part of the fabric, cut and sewn into a parochet, covers a Holy Ark. The white and gold parochet installed in Kever Rachel, on the Fast of Esther, Navah’s birthday, is where hearts are unburdened before their creator. Women ask for intervention from Rachel Imenu – beg that their destiny be secured.
The other part of the fabric is a billowy, embroidered canopy used at weddings by young couples who remember the eternal bride. Beneath the chuppah, a glass is stepped on zecher l’churban, a reminder of the destruction of the Temple. Jewish couples vow to raise families, transforming tragedy into a firm commitment to instill Torah in their homes. Encouraging proliferation of large families is a time-honored response, an acknowledgment that destruction breeds reconstruction.
Another memorial to Navah is an artfully decorated bridal area in the mikvah at Har Choma, overlooking Kever Rachel. The interior, with a pomegranate theme prominently featured on enlarged hand painted tiles covering two walls, is exquisite. The comfortable, colorful room is a pleasant, welcoming addition to any bride’s first mikvah experience.
Unlike the Tenth of Tevet, where the purpose of fasting is repentance, the Fast of Esther is a day of prayer. In the story of Purim the Divine is concealed; acclaim of the miracle was reserved for future generations. Our daily existence in Israel is a constant round of miracles, some evident, others hidden. I pray that our survival will continue to be guided by Divine intervention, miracles acknowledged by the confused as well as those who value their Jewish identity.
Communal recognition and worship of the God of Israel is vital if we are to turn our fast days from experiences of mourning, repentance, and prayer into occasions of joyous celebration.
I await the shift of climate eagerly.
About the Author: Faigie Heiman is an accomplished short-story and essay writer and the author of a popular memoir titled “Girl For Sale.” Born and raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, she has lived in Israel for more than fifty years.
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