The story of Purim is one that illustrates a period of persecution targeted against the Jewish people. It marks a time where Jews were faced with a dilemma, do they conceal their Jewish identity for survival purposes or do they stand together in solidarity and pride?
Purim commemorates the survival against the attempted genocide of all Persian Jews orchestrated by Haman. When the King of Persia executed his wife for disobeying orders, he arranged a beauty pageant with intentions of finding his new wife. He selected a Jewish girl, Esther, whose faith he was unaware of. Meanwhile Haman was appointed the King’s adviser, whom the King had issued orders for his people to bow to him. When Mordechai, the leader of the Jews and coincidentally the relative of Esther, refused to bow, Haman convinced the king to order the extermination of all Jews. Morderchai encouraged the Jewish people to pray, fast and take necessary means to ask for G-d’s help. Meanwhile, Esther arranged a feast with the King and Haman, at which she revealed her Jewish faith. Subsequently Haman was hung, with Morderchai in place as the King’s adviser.
The concept of anti-Semitic persecution present in the Purim story is one that has been prevalent throughout history and remains visible in contemporary society. As diaspora Jews, we are often confronted with questions surrounding the expression of our identity within assimilation. As we live in societies where antisemitism exists, it can become difficult to know how to respond to this, and find the balance between maintaining our Jewish identity and our safety. However the story of Purim teaches us that our individual and collective identity is one to protect; our Judaism, however we wish to express this, should be celebrated.
Furthermore, Purim teaches us to not be afraid to be our true selves. As we celebrate the festival by masking our identity, it is important to reflect on how authentic we are being with ourselves and others. Whilst being ourselves can be a daunting and even threatening experience at times, from Esther we can learn to find the strength to reveal our true selves to the world.
By Sophia Ballin (Shnat 2022/2023)