Legless, long-bearded Rabbis gallivanting around aimlessly, overgrown babies dressed in onesies and that impressive collection of kosher sweets your younger sibling managed to scavenge off the Shule floor after doing all sorts of matrix moves between the stampedes of feet. Yep, it’s that festival we’ve all been ecstatically out of our minds excited for…Purim!
Purim is undoubtedly one of everyone’s favourite chaggim- it counteracts the starvation we put ourselves through on Yom Kippur, the eight days of eating cardboard we endure over Pesach and all those times we have spent in the teeth-chattering cold sukkah over Sukkot…and of course it’s that one festival that makes us all realise that we are part of a religion of mashugunas!
It is definitely a festival that you never outgrow- no matter what age you are. It was the most exciting day of the year throughout my years in Primary School when you got to reveal that costume that your mum had already been planning since last year’s Purim (#jewishmumprobz). The day which was full of fun activities including that multi-coloured parachute that made its reoccurring appearance every year. Purim days at high school were filled with our uncontained excitement for our night’s venture into one of North Manchester’s most enthralling open spaces- Broughton Park- for absolutely no good reason other than that’s what we were supposed to do on Purim. Purim in Israel on Shnat was unquestionably one of my favourite weekends- from the floods of Israelis that poured onto the streets for street parties so crowded you lost phone signal, to a Kibbutz Ein Dor Purim party where the craziest thing to happen was not, in fact, a woman dressed as a burrito.
But surely there is more to this festival than just multi-coloured parachutes, Broughton Park antics and a Kibbutznik dressed as a burrito. Has Purim truly lost all meaning? I should really hate to think so. Of course there is more to the festival of Purim than all of the aforementioned. The story of Purim may only seem like that typical Jewish fairy tale story with all of the correlated character roles: the beautiful queen, the powerful king, the evil villain and the loveable hero. Along with that typical storyline that G-d seems to love, whereby the Jews once again come under attack but are miraculously saved against all the odds. However, the didactic nature of the Purim story is more relevant today than ever before, and we, as individuals and as a collective youth movement can learn a great deal from it.
An article I recently read headlined: ‘I try not to look overtly Jewish, I’m not going to take the risk, I’m not looking for trouble’ initially struck me as something extremely sad, but once I thought about it a lot more, I came to comprehend that this ongoing battle between expressing our Jewish identity versus our own safety is becoming more commonplace and more of a reality in today’s world. I instantly drew uncanny parallels between this article headline and the happenings of the Purim story: Queen Esther kept her Jewish identity disguised for her own safety, whereas Mordechai chose to proudly stand up for his religion in the face of evil.
This draws us into the dilemma of our Jewish identity. We appear to be confronted with a two-fold dichotomy as to the type of Jew we should be. You have to ask yourself the question: are you first and foremost a British Jew, or a Jewish Brit? Should we be the overtly Jewish and proud Mordechais of today’s society which leaves us vulnerable to anti-Semitism? Or should we be the Esthers of today’s society succumbing to hiding our Jewish identity, running the risk of assimilation whilst losing an inherent part of who we truly are just so that we can feel safe in our own country? The choice seems to be a zero-sum game.
With the recent atrocities occurring in Jerusalem, Paris and Copenhagen I think the parallels to the Purim story are more prevalent than ever before. The fact that the Jewish people, under Persian rule, were dispersed over 127 provinces undoubtedly meant that sects of Jews differed from one another in custom, garment and tongue according to where they were from, very much in the same way as Jews all over the world differ nowadays. Yet, though there were Jews who would conceal their Jewishness, Haman recognised the essential qualities and characteristics of the Jews which made all of them, with or without their consent, into ‘one people’.
We are indeed one people, one nation, one religion and as history dictates to us, there is no escaping that. We have been a prosecuted nation since our religion began and hiding our Jewish identity is no quick fix to avoiding such a fact, as shown most evidently from Nazi Germany. We are at our most vulnerable when we are disunited, we need a strong unified collective to fight against the plague of anti-Semitism. That isn’t to say, of course, that we will speak with one voice. As a religion we are extremely divided and fractious in our views about things. But those who sought to destroy us all those years ago and those who seek to destroy us now do not make distinctions between Jews. An attack on one part of the community is an attack on us all. Yet, if we can set all of our different views aside, however uncomfortable that may be, and become a unified force where we no longer have to fight the internal struggles within our religion, we become a stronger force to oppose external issues such as anti-Semitism.
As members of Habonim Dror we have this great platform to be dugmot and reach out to build bridges with others in our community and groups outside of our community, to ensure that we can remain proud and never have to shy away from our religion. We must be proud of our religion, but never complacent.
Let’s make this year’s Purim mission a more meaningful task than survival of the shikkered in Broughton Park. Let’s evolve these previously futile celebrations into something meaningful, let’s build those bridges and do something amazing…and maybe even worth all of those shots of Vodka that your body is going to avenge you for tomorrow morning!