Purim is not a holiday for the politically correct but it's a lot of fun. The festival, which started on Friday evening, marks Jewish survival despite the best efforts of one of the most famous anti-Semites of antiquity, Haman the royal adviser to Persian King Ahasuerus. It is also the time of year we are reminded of the decree to "Remember what Amalek did" to us - a brutal attack on the Israelites following the Exodus - and "obliterate Amalek's remembrance from under heaven."
Haman was, perhaps not coincidentally, an Amalekite whose attempt to wipe the Jews off the map on Purim was frustrated by the beautiful Queen Esther, the savior of the Jewish people, who is probably one of the most famously intermarried Jewish women of all time.
Apart from the problematic story-line for the PC-sensitive, we are also commanded to drink until we "no longer know the difference between the villainous Haman and the heroic Mordecai, Esther's uncle.
We also literally blot out Haman's name with noise whenever it is mentioned in the Book of Esther, which is read on the holiday. Without spoiling the story line for those who haven't read the Book, Haman's demonic plans are not only frustrated but he is left dangling at a loose end on the very gallows he built for Mordecai's downfall.
It is easier than ever to picture this macabre image this year since the world was recently treated to the spectacle of the hanging of Saddam Hussein. It is also, unfortunately, not difficult to imagine an evil counselor in Persia plotting to wipe the Jews "off the map." The ghosts of Purim past have not come back to haunt us; they never fully left us alone.
Purim is the archetypal religious holiday which Jews like to quip can be summed up in the phrase: "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat!"
Probably the most popular food associated with the holiday are hamantashen, the small, triangular-shaped cookies known in Hebrew as oznei Haman, Haman's ears - traditionally filled with poppy seeds. Blood libels have started over less. And even blood libels are back in fashion thanks to Prof. Ariel Toaff, author of Pasque di Sangue (Passover of Blood), which suggests that there might be some basis behind the massacre-sparking accusations against the Jews. Knesset members this week proposed that Toaff be prosecuted for the book, which was seized as a holiday gift by Israel's enemies.
With friends like Toaff, the son of Rome's former chief rabbi, and the extremists from Natorei Karta who attended President Ahmadinejad's Holocaust deniers' conference in Teheran and whose members this week joined forces with Sheikh Raed Salah's Islamic Movement to protest the archeological dig near the Temple Mount's Mughrabi Gate, who needs enemies? Natorei Karta's Rabbi Moshe Hirsch explained his participation in the demonstration by saying any action that incited Muslim rage was prohibited by Jewish law. "We are forbidden to do anything that riles up the nations of the world," he asserted. "Even if the Muslims' claims are baseless, we must respect the fact that the digging aggravates them."
Trouble is, it seems our very existence aggravates them. And we're not talking of the NIMBY (not in my back yard) phenomenon. We're talking of what environmentalists know as NOPE - not on planet Earth.
Still, in true Purim fashion, we're not only still here, we're even managing to enjoy ourselves.
Purim, with its tradition of dressing up and wearing masks, is a time when nothing is quite what it seems. And it's been easy to relate to that lately. The motto of the month of Adar, when Purim falls, is "When Adar comes, joy is increased." The government got into the festive spirit and has been providing enough raw material for many a Purimspiel, the traditional holiday spoofs. Take Israel Beiteinu's Estherina Tartman. No sooner was she touted as tourism minister than she proved her creativity in the CV she presented. Tartman might not turn out to be a legendary politician but her myth-making talents have not gone unnoted.
The attractive Tartman might have reluctantly starred in what was quickly dubbed the Queen Estherina Affair, but she was far from being the ultimate gift to the satiritists. The pre-Purim parody supreme was the vision of Defense Minister Amir Peretz staring through binoculars with the lens caps still on, and nodding sagely during explanations of an IDF exercise in the North.
The Hebrew daily Ma'ariv labeled its picture "Seeing black." Yediot Aharonot softened the blow by adding pictures of other leaders looking through capped binoculars - US President George W. Bush and former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Even the popular US comedy show host Jay Leno took a swipe at Peretz, drawing comfort in the fact that it's not only American leaders who make mistakes.
The photographer said Peretz raised the capped binoculars to his eyes three times, nodding as Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi explained what he was "seeing." Under these circumstances it's easy to see how the wool can be pulled over the Labor leader's eyes. But no doubt even Peretz can now clearly see what picture is going to star in the election campaign of his many political opponents.
The year that has passed since last Purim has not provided too many laughs. No wonder we have been reduced to the snickering at the goings-on of our elected leaders. Since we saw this summer what our enemies' idea of fun involves - kidnappings, Katyushas and Kassams - Israelis are beginning to wonder if the joke's not on us. Hizbullah in the North and Hamas in the South are no laughing matter. Global Jihad is uncomfortably close.
Further afield, but not far enough, lies Iran, where a modern-day Haman sits plotting against the Jews, while al-Qaida's Osama bin Laden would like nothing more than to see all the "crusaders and infidels" dead - preferably with live TV and Internet coverage.
The Purim story - anti-Semitism leading to attempted annihilation - is truly a lesson for the generations. But Holocaust-denier Ahmadinejad is obviously unwilling to learn from history.
Yet there is a moral in the story that can be seen in every Jewish child who dresses in costume and every adult who drinks to drown the memory of Haman.
We'll have the last laugh yet.
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