- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On March 8, 2019
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way toward Shabbat.
The new moon has appeared and with it the beginning of the month of Adar II. When the moon reaches its fullest and brightest appearance, we will joyfully celebrate Purim. We are supposed to be happy, even commanded throughout the whole month.
That feels like a challenge.
It’s difficult to be happy about a holiday that commemorates the triumph of hatred squelched, of destruction thwarted; of Jews blamed and placed in harm’s way frustrated when it seems like ancient stories remain present and potentially prescient.
What is going on?
Back in the days of Shushan, Haman wanted to annihilate the Jews because Mordecai refused to bow to his autocratic, narcissistic, self-aggrandizing perception of himself. Haman did not realize that Queen Esther, strategically placed, could and would frustrate his evil plans.
As the Psalmist (30:12) said, you turned my lament into dancing, you undid my sackcloth and girded me with joy.
On Purim, we exclaim, they tried to kill us. We foiled their plans. Let’s eat, drink, and be happy.
Today, it is more difficult when our nation is mired in hatred and bigotry, spurred by the rhetoric of our national leaders. Therefore, Purim also calls upon us to reflect on the dangers of incendiary references and language and their impact on us all.
It is disappointing and disconcerting when concern about Israel is articulated in such a way as to insinuate ill intent toward Jews and Israel. Ilhan Omar, freshly elected to the House of Representatives from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, has channeled her distress about the human rights of Palestinians and American financial support of Israel into anti-Semitic territory. A couple of weeks ago, she acknowledged that hatred against Jews is real and apologized for the language she used. She owned her need to learn and understand better. And yet in the past week, she alluded to dual loyalty and other tropes that trigger grave distress. Did she mean to say what we heard?
Her rhetoric yielded responses and condemnations that are important. For certain, many of us worry and disagree with Israel’s leaders and share concern about Israel’s democracy just as we do with our own country’s imperfect system of government. But, let’s be clear, as Thomas Friedman recently wrote: “Israel is able to maintain a democracy, albeit a flawed one, in a sea of autocratic regimes.”
Fairness dictates that we should hold every nation to the same high standard with which we regard the State of Israel and our own. We need to challenge the notion that Israel’s misdeeds are more egregious than those of its neighbors, one of whom uses poison gas on its own citizens. I do believe that the BDS movement is code, as Friedman also stated, for getting rid of the State of Israel. We have no obligation to be silent in the face of such a danger to the collective aspirations of Jewish peoplehood.
In response to Congresswoman Omar’s comments, and in response to what so many diverse listeners feel that they heard in her words, a challenge has been sounded in Congress and across public conversation to obliterate bigotry and hate in all sectors. Sure we know that no matter what we have attempted, we have not owned enough responsibility to speak up when our elected leaders speak egregiously and unfairly about immigrants, particular religious communities, and people of color, among others. Shouldn’t we all say more when we hear words and sentiments that cause pain and marginalizes, negates, diminishes or others neighbors, near and far?
All men may have been created equal as long as they were of a certain race, religion, status and male gender. Even our great nation falls short of its stated aspiration to treat all people with equality or equity in mind. And yet, the beauty of this country of ours is that we do have the power to transform, to turn our lament into dancing, and gird us with joy.
What will it take to alter the worn path of hatred and bigotry here; in Israel and in other places we love and feel deeply tied to around the world? It begins with the power of our voices and our position. It continues with the choices we make about how and when we use both.
When Mordacai discovered Haman’s plan, he sent word to Esther in the palace. At first she refused to take action, fearful for her own life, but Mordecai persisted.
Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis. (Esther 4:13-14)
Esther stepped up.
The recent Congressional vote to condemn anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and racism is essential just as much as our good faith criticism and belief in Israel’s right to exist is necessary.
We need these days of festive joy to express relief when in episode after episode of danger we have managed to continue the story of our people and the reflective and relational life that our tradition teaches us to value.
Let Shabbat help us practice the joy part so that our voices remain strong and clear throughout the week and throughout this land we call home.
Continue this conversation tonight as we welcome Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism who will address these issues and reflections about Israel as part of our Feinberg lecture. After he speaks and responds to questions, he will join the Riverway Project folks for part of their service as well. Qabbalat Shabbat begins at 6:00 p.m. Live stream here.
Torah study starts at 9:00 a.m. with a short service followed by a lively discussion on the weekly portion.
I am eager to learn what you think and feel about the topics discussed today. Connect with me HERE.