Our first year in Jerusalem, I heard that neighborhood kids were ringing the
doorbell of the local church, then cursing into the intercom. I was appalled. We
did not establish a Jewish state to do to “them” what “they” did to us – but to
model different behavior. That Purim, my family and I delivered mishloach manot
– Purim treats – in costume – to our neighborhood nuns. We were, I admit, a tad
uncomfortable when we rang the bell outside their imposing door. We were unsure
what the reaction would be.
Greeting us in German-accented Hebrew, the
nuns welcomed us warmly. It seemed as if they never interacted with their
neighbors. They knew the Purim ritual but had never received
Hamantaschen. That Easter, we received painted eggs and chocolate. That Rosh
Hashanah, we delivered apples and honey. That Christmas, we received little
Santas and more chocolate. We now have a ritualized gift exchange four times a
I think of our little family “tikun,” our minor attempt to repair a
breach, whenever I hear stories about this disgusting phenomenon of some – note
the word some – ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting at priests and Seminary students in
the Old City. While it is hard to know how widespread a phenomenon it is, we
must have zero tolerance for such appalling behavior. It violates a central
commandment from the Torah, Vayikra or Leviticus 19, to “treat the stranger who
sojourns among you as the native.”
But objecting is not
enough. Israelis must demand that the perpetrators be caught, prosecuted
aggressively and jailed for assault. We must determine which communities are
teaching such anti-humanistic, anti- Jewish and anti-Christian ideas and
pressure their leadership to follow the true Torah teaching. Moreover, each of
us should make our own “tikun,” reaching out to Christians in Jerusalem and
elsewhere, welcoming them somehow, reassuring them that this pathological
minority of hooligans does not represent Israelis or Jews.
guiding principles should be how we want to be treated outside Israel. What do
we expect from Christians when a synagogue is defaced, a kippah is knocked off a
head, an anti-Semite barks out a hurtful curse like “Dirty Jew”?
emerged as one of the great Israeli holidays (he writes after fighting off the
crowds at the local toy store cum costume shop). It highlights the culturally
invigorating opportunities that arise from establishing a majority Jewish
culture in our homeland. With school cancelled, the weather improving and
masquerades charming young and old alike, it is a rare Scrooge who does not
participate in Purim.
The streets fill with happy kids wearing costumes –
and delivering treats, not demanding them to avoid some “trick.” The range of
hamantaschen fillings is dazzling, from the Troy family favorite – chocolate –
to halva. And the spectrum of venues for megillah readings is impressive, from
private homes to grand synagogues.
While all societies need the
occasional Mardi-Gras style release, and the value of a good shtick should never
be underestimated, these rituals transmit important values and narratives. There
is, for example, a jump in serious charitable giving as modern Israelis fulfill
the ancient tradition of “matanot le’evyonim,” gifts to the poor.
formal philanthropic opportunities for giving in Israel abound, Israel also has
a broad network for personal giving to the poor, which helps thousands without
generating tax receipts or donor recognition plaques. It is also worth thinking
about the deeper question too, after a summer of social protest, namely, how to
develop a capitalist society that maximizes freedom and opportunity for all,
while minimizing the suffering for some that inevitably results.
Purim, with the Iranian nuclear threat climbing higher on the geopolitical
agenda, with Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, Obama
administration officials and critics all meeting at the massive AIPAC policy
conference in Washington, DC, and with President Barack Obama and Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu meeting again for one of their periodic, awkward encounters,
the Purim lessons are resonating, left and right. In fact, Netanyahu handed
Obama a megillah – a Purim scroll.
Given Esther’s role in subverting
Haman’s plans, the modern Zionist message of Jewish self-reliance, emphasizing
the need for Jews to identify the enemy, highlighting the greater risks we as a
minority face in the world, warning of the risks of complacency amid existential
threats, all ring true.
But ultimately, Esther and Moredechai had to
convince Ahasuerus that Hamanidejad, er, Haman, posed a threat to the kind of
king he wanted to be, and the kind of kingdom he wanted to lead. If we only
learn from the Purim story that “goyim” are bad like Haman and Amalek, we miss
learning how to befriend non-Jews, whom we still need, even with a sovereign
While in the Diaspora, knowledgeable Jews talk about
“adloyada,” celebrating until we cannot distinguish between Mordechai the good
and Haman the bad, savvy Israelis talk about “nahafochu,” let’s reverse things.
With the Iranian threat looming, with an American president who lacks a clear,
constructive foreign policy vision, we cannot afford to indulge in “adloyada”
confusion or relativism when assessing world threats, especially from Iran. But
we need more “nahafochu.”
The Zionist revolution achieved two clear
“nahafochus”: from powerlessness to power and from minority to majority status.
Israelis need a “nahafochu” with our Christian neighbors, actively protecting
and reassuring them. Jews needs a “nahafochu” with our Christian friends,
emphasizing our common values and interdependence, especially with American
And Israel needs a “nahafochu” with its enemies – seeking to
turn the tables on them – hopefully by fomenting internal tension that helps the
regime implode but being prepared, if all alternatives fail, to defend Israel –
and democracies throughout the world, including the “Big Satan,” the United
States, which Iranian radicals constantly threaten too.
The writer is
professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel
Research Fellow.The author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish
identity and the Challenges of Today, his next book will be about Daniel Patrick
Moynihan and the 1975 Zionism is Racism resolution.