The joyous holiday of Purim


I pray it’s not another “here we go again” moment. Regrettably, to a large segment of the Jewish world it feels that because of the raging wave of antisemitism, the incredibly venomous anti-Israel backlash as a result of October 7, and the way overall violent Jew-Hatred has been normalized, we are faced with a credible existential threat.

Unfortunately, history has shown over and over that the descendants of the House of Jacob indeed have been relentlessly targeted for genocide. This, sadly, is only a partial list of those that conquered the Hebrews with the goal of eventual total assimilation and/or extinction:

Assyrians (722 BCE), Babylonians (586 BCE), Hellenistic Empire (332 BCE-Chanukah story), Roman Empire (70 CE), Persians (614 CE), Arab Rule (636 CE), Crusades (1099), Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions (1490’s), and of course in more modern times the Holocaust during the Second World War.

On Saturday March 23 at sunset until sundown on Sunday the joyous holiday of Purim will take place. The festival recalls a time in the mid-5th century BCE when the Jews that lived in the Persian Kingdom were designated to be wiped off the map pursuant to a planned mass murder endorsed by the King. However unknown to the Monarch, his wife Queen Esther was Jewish. And after concealing her identity and remaining silent, Esther ultimately and bravely revealed her heritage and boldly convinced her husband to not go forward with the comprehensive annihilation of the Jewish people. This miraculous averting of disaster resulted in merriment, feasting and a happy celebration of all the subjects across the many provinces of the kingdom. The anniversary of which became crystallized on the liturgical calendar as the holiday of Purim. 

The timeliness and the message of this commemoration could not be more meaningful. As Jews and good members of all religions must realize, there is a way to counteract the designs of discrimination, bigotry, and blatant evil. Following the lead of Esther we can no longer hide the best version of ourselves. Let us remove the masks of indifference. Like the royal First Lady of ancient times all of us should be unafraid to speak up for what is right even in the face of a misguided majority. What saved the community of those who practiced the Abrahamic faith then could protect all victims of prejudice today.

Rabbi Jack Zanerhaft is the spiritual leader at Temple Emanu-El of Long Beach.