It has been falsely claimed of the late educator Ernst Simon (1899-1988) that he
would intentionally avoid celebrating Purim. Uncomfortable with the idea that
the Purim miracle included the killing of 75,000 enemies of the Jews, the
traditional-minded Israel Prize laureate and co-founder of Brit Shalom
purportedly would remain in Jerusalem on the 14th of the month of Adar (the day
Purim is not celebrated in the capital) and go elsewhere on the 15th (the day
Purim is celebrated in Jerusalem).
Those who knew Simon have flatly
reject the rumor, which is also erroneously attributed to Prof. Yeshayahu
Leibovitz. But its persistence demonstrates many Jews’ discomfort with the
glorification of bloodshed.
Simon (and Leibovitz) had no reason to avoid
the celebrations, which focus not on jingoistic revelry, but on the miraculous
deliverance of the Jews from their Persian enemies. Even the dates chosen to
celebrate the holiday mark the days when the Jews rested from their enemies, not
the days when the battles and killing actually took place. Lacking evidence,
many historians doubt the Purim event ever even happened.
story could be a type of “what if” scenario concocted by a group of powerless
Jews living in exile that belongs to the same genre recently explored by Quentin
Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds.
Yet if you believe the propaganda
presented by Iranian students at Avicenna University in the Hamadan region,
Purim is all about celebrating “genocide.” Last December, hundreds of these
students, incensed by scurrilous reports that Israelis were excavating under
Al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount, demonstrated in front of what is believed to
be the tomb of the biblical Mordechai and Esther. The students called to turn
the burial site into a “Holocaust” memorial to the thousands of “Iranian”
victims of Esther and Mordechai. Shortly after the demonstration, the Iranian
government ordered the removal of a sign identifying the mausoleum as an
official pilgrimage site. A complaint filed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s
director for international relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, to UNESCO
Director-General Irina Bokova has not changed the situation.
regime’s cynical revision of Jewish history, which includes state-sanctioned
Holocaust denial, is only a tiny part of the hell that is modern-day
According to an 18-page report presented this week by UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Iran has in recent months intensified its
crackdown on opponents, as well as executions of drug traffickers, political
prisoners and juvenile criminals. Ban also voiced concern at floggings,
arbitrary arrests and torture of human rights activists, lawyers, journalists
and opposition leaders, as well as barbaric punishments such as amputations for
theft and stoning for alleged adultery.
THE ANTI-SEMITIC vitriol spouted
by Iranian students against Purim is instructive here. Historically, treatment
of Jews has been a barometer of a society’s health, be it Isabella and
Ferdinand’s Spain, Lenin’s Russia, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran or, for that
matter, Ahasuerus’s Persia. When Jews are singled out for discrimination, it is
an ominous sign for all. True, there are about 25,000 Jews living “peacefully”
But, as Prof. Harold Gellis has noted in Community magazine, the
Jews, in return for their safety, must demonstrate hostility to Israel, keep
their schools open on Shabbat and not build any new synagogues. And while The
New York Times’s Roger Cohen argued against a preemptive attack on Iran after a
2009 trip there – thanks, in part, to the country’s tolerance of the Jewish
community – he also reported that a synagogue waved a sign reading
“Congratulations on the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, from the
Jewish community of Esfahan.” Imagine the sickly shame of playing the sycophant
to a regime that virulently hates your people.
JUST THIS week, as if to
honor the holiday spirit, Ahmadinejad’s Islamist regime sent Hamas advanced
weaponry, which, had it not been intercepted by our navy, would have made it
easier to kill Jews. But in a Purim-like ending, the Islamic Republic’s
murderous intentions were foiled, at least this time.
message is particularly relevant today: The Jewish people should feel grateful
for not always being on the receiving end of history’s tragedies, while
recognizing that it is no cause for celebration when we are forced to use
violence against our many enemies.