Purim Lessons for Today

As you know, Monday night the Mittleman Jewish Community Center received a email bomb threat. Thank goodness it was a hoax. Kudos to the MJCC and Portland Jewish Academy for being prepared for such instances.

Sadly, there were 16 bomb threats this week alone across North America. This brings the total to over 100 threats in 35 states and provinces. Wednesday morning the Jewish Federation convened a meeting of leaders from local Jewish organizations to discuss procedures, communications, and to ensure we remain strong and vigilant -- together. I know how seriously our communal professionals take security and community members’ welfare.

Earlier this week, the United States Senate (with unanimous bipartisan support!) signed a letter to the Trump administration urging them to address the increasing number of bomb threats against JCCs and Jewish schools. “We write to underscore the need for swift action with regard to the deeply troubling series of anonymous bomb threats made to Jewish organizations and institutions across the country. We are concerned that the number of incidents is accelerating and failure to address and deter these threats will place innocent people at risk and threaten the financial viability of JCCs, many of which are institutions in their communities.”

The letter also calls on the administration to work with JCCs and other Jewish institutions around the country to determine what assistance is needed for enhanced security as well as investigate and prosecute those making threats. The American Jewish community is grateful to the Senate for its support and we hope this happens!

Let me be clear, our community is focused on the safety and security of all.

Saturday night is the beginning of Purim. We read the Megillat Esther, retelling the story of Purim and celebrating Esther’s bravery with revelry and joy. There is a lot for Megillat Esther to teach us about the role of activism and helping those in need. It also provides a deep look into anti-Semitism, and teaches us that we must take these threats seriously. 

Jacob Kraus of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism wrote that Haman sets out to destroy the Jews after he becomes incensed by Mordecai’s refusal to bow down to him – a refusal that was rooted in Mordecai’s Jewish faith. When he lobbies King Ahasuerus for a decree that will endorse a genocidal campaign, Haman employs the anti-Semitic mantra of dual loyalty, saying: “There is a certain people … dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king's laws” (Esther 3:8). The Jews, Haman asserts, are disloyal to their king because they are loyal to their religion and people and therefore must be destroyed.

In fact, Esther exposes this hypocrisy in her response to Haman’s plan by refusing to accept the argument that she must choose between her country and her people. She does not use her power to secretly thwart the King’s decree; instead, she openly brings her position as queen and her Jewish identity to the banquet table, asking Ahasuerus to save her life and her people and showing him that he was wrong to view the Jews in this way.

Of course, this is not where the story ends. It tragically continues with the Jews defending their lives by killing thousands of Persians. It is vital that we struggle with this response to anti-Semitism, and remember that the most effective ways of fighting oppression focus on building shared society rather than resorting to violence.

Monday’s bomb scare elicited an incredible outpouring of calls and letters of support from our state and local officials, other religious and ethnic communities, the LGBTQ community, and a warm note from the CEO of the United Way. The Greater Portland community continues to come together to fight hatred and bigotry in all forms.

We are sadly reminded that the threats to the Jewish people were not limited to Shushan in the Purim story but remain with us, even at this point in time. As anti-Semitic incidents rise at an alarming rate, we should listen carefully to the message of Purim.

Rabbi Slovie Jungreis-Wolff wrote, “The Jewish people were frightened, faced with threat of annihilation. Haman’s hatred hung over the nation like a dark cloud. We never gave up hope. Instead, we must embrace the words of Queen Esther: ‘Go, gather all the Jews.’ Become one. Reach out to someone with kindness. Make a difference in the life of another, even if it’s just through a good word or a bright smile.”

As with other Jewish festivals one is required to complete several other mitzvot beyond the public reading of the Megillah. These acts of providing gifts of food to one’s friends (mishloach manot) and the responsibility for giving charity (matanot la’evyonim) reaffirm our principles that as a community we are obligated to care for others by setting an example for our children of the dignity with which we honor our fellow human beings.

As we defend our rights and the rights of all people, we must work towards a future defined not by the darkness of anti-Semitism, but by the light celebrated at the end of the Megillah:

La-yehudim, hayta orah v’simcha, v’sasson, vikar – For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor” (8:16).

Enjoy Purim and the amazing and incredibly creative array of shpiels and events around our Jewish vibrant community. Here is a list of services and activities.

Have a wonderful and joyous Purim and Shabbat shalom.




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