There have now been at least 67 incidents at 56 Jewish Community Centers in 27 states and one Canadian province since the start of 2017. Thank Goodness no one has been physically harmed, but one phone call does significantly disrupt Jewish life. Day Care Centres and Senior Centres are evacuated with great effort and with a real cost. Terrorism is meant to terrorize.
We are told to downplay it, so as not to give attention to the coward who makes the phone call. Vandalized synagogues, seminaries, and subway cars are immediately washed clean of the swastikas and hateful slurs, so as not to give satisfaction to the desperate perpetrators. At the same time, however, we must not pretend away these crimes. Jewish community leadership must not be silent, lest this becomes “the new normal.” Leaders of government and law enforcement must not be silent, lest the ugly and cruel underground believes it has been given permission to come out of the dark hiding places.
The biblical Book of Esther is a story of anti-Semitism organized from the top down and the bottom up. Haman advises King Achashveirosh: “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.” (Esther 3:8)
What do we learn from The Book of Esther that can guide us at this time of growing anti-semitism?
- Stand with your people.Esther said from her protected position in the palace: “How can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? How can I endure to see the destruction of my kin?” (Esther 8:6) When a Jew is threatened in North York, in La Jolla, in Paris or Sederot, we must show that we are with them.
- Be vigilant. Demand the protection of the government, the police, the courts.“So Esther arose, and stood before the king and said, If it pleases the king, and if I have favour in his sight, and the thing seem right before the king, and I be pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to reverse the letters devised by Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to destroy the Jews which are in all the king’s provinces.” (Esther 8:5)After formerly dodging questions about anti-Semitism, calling them: “not a simple question, not a fair question,” yesterday the U.S. President took the first step in denouncing anti-Semitism and hate crimes. The organized Jewish community here, too, must continue to report and demand protections.
- Know that most people are good and many will help.It is written that when Mordechai was respected by the king “the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad.” (Esther 8:15) As of this morning more than $58,ooo has been raised by an initiative of Muslim Americans to help restore the 170 vandalized gravestones in St. Louis’s historic Jewish cemetery. “Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America.” The roses we received last week from the Muslim Moms of Durham region are another example of reciprocated kindness from the Muslim community after we created Rings of Peace around seven Toronto mosques.
- Explore your faith.God’s name is not mentioned even once in the Purim Megillah. Our Sages take this to teach that there are moments of human history when God is hidden. Behind the Megillah’s distractions of royal robes and palace riches, behind the noise of the parades and angry mobs – there is modest Jew named Esther, whose very name means, “Hidden One.” She is the hero of the story because she points to the God is also sometimes hidden. She is the courageous one because she calls upon her God to reveal Himself, to make Himself known in the world. And she is the champion of faith because she calls upon her people to seek God out – to search in all the best hiding places – in Torah learning, in prayer, in gestures of kindness – large and small.“Hayesh Adonai b’kirbeinu, im A-yin?” “Is God present among us or not?” is a question which springs from fear of abandonment in the wilderness. Let us ask instead: “What can I do to show myself worthy of having been created in the image of God?” and “What must I do to be an emblem of God’s nearness?”
- Do not be afraid. Take courage from our past.In the Megillah it is written: “These days of Purim shall never disappear from among the Jews, nor the memory of them perish from their descendents” (9:28). Know the stories of our people – both the real stories of Jewish history and our fanciful folktales like Esther. Encoded in these stories are the secrets of our survival. In them we find clarity in what is right and courage to create security and freedom for our people and for other peoples, too.
When Mordechai encouraged Esther to stand up against hatred he said: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place.” (Esther 4:14) This was a remarkable statement of faith. Mordechai believes that the Jewish people WILL endure regardless, but wouldn’t you, Esther, like to be a part of the story? Wouldn’t you like to write yourself into the unfolding of Jewish history? Of human history?
We conclude every Shabbat with Havdalah’s hope for calm in the week ahead. We sing the words of the Megillah, “For the Jews (then) there was light and gladness, joy and honour.” (Esther 8:16) Kein tihyeh lanu! So may it be for us all.