Getting into the Purim spirit

Eat, drink and be merry - it's a commandment that we can all live with.

kids 88 purim (photo credit: )
kids 88 purim
(photo credit: )
I was recently asked on a radio panel to provide a positive story from Israel. It wasn't easy. But not for the reason you might think. Having to pick just one item was limiting. I cast my mind around and remembered various recent stories of medical and technological breakthroughs helping with everything from diagnosing cancer at an earlier, more treatable, stage to helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There was the heartwarming story in the Hebrew press of a Jerusalem girls' high school where students, realizing the contract workers such as the cleaners would not have the day off for a Muslim religious holiday, offered to switch with them and do their work, thus launching an enterprise for better conditions for non-salaried workers that has spread far beyond their own school's walls. There was the rally by some 10,000 people from all over the country who converged on Sderot one Friday morning to boost local businesses and show support. Similarly, there is the ongoing enterprise of shoppers from the center of the country buying goods in the Kassam-hit town or ordering Shabbat hallot and cakes from Sderot bakeries in a typically Israeli way of showing solidarity - by feasting. Ultimately, I made my top choice the way the country goes on doing what comes naturally. The stores are full of Purim costumes and despite the rocket attacks and terror attacks, Israel is getting ready to celebrate. No other place in the world symbolizes and celebrates Jewish survival as the Jewish state. Purim, which starts on March 20 in the evening, is the archetypal religious holiday about which we joke can be summed up in the phrase "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat!" The March 6 attack on the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in which eight students - all but one of them teens - were slaughtered as they gathered to celebrate the start of the Hebrew month of Adar, when we are commanded to be joyous, was more than sobering. But this year, too, the festivities will go on. NO MATTER what tensions exist in Israel between Left and Right, religious and secular - and exist they unfortunately do - this is a holiday marked by Jews all over the country. This year, with the shadow of missiles and terror attacks again casting a pall, the Purim traditions of dressing up in costumes, giving gifts of food, donating charity to the poor, and above all blotting out the name of Haman, seem as appropriate as ever. The ghosts of Purim past have haunted us ever since the days of yore when Haman, the royal adviser to Persian king Ahasuerus tried to kill all the Jews. He wasn't the first and he certainly wasn't the last. Even today in a Persia so modern it is but a short step away from getting The Bomb, there are those who dream of "wiping the Zionist entity" off the map. Over the years, the reasons for killing the Jews have changed. Last century, for example, we were simultaneously blamed for giving birth to Communism and creating capitalism. No wonder Jewish mothers are famous for their guilt complexes. Nowadays we are also basically being blamed for global jihad. If Israel stopped building settlements, goes the current popular theory in international diplomacy, the Palestinians would stop their attacks and the world would live in peace. Why the neighboring Arab states attacked us before we "occupied" the West Bank, or why they continue to attack via terrorist organizations even though we have long since pulled out of Gaza, is a question that echoes unanswered like a Purim firecracker - part of a parody - or a gunshot, the sound that continues to pervade our lives. When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government announced on March 9 that it would approve the building of some 330 housing units in a neighborhood in Givat Ze'ev just outside Jerusalem and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) spoke a couple of days later of building a new neighborhood in east Jerusalem and more units in the large settlements, the world, predictably, jumped. It is a commandment on Purim to drink until we "no longer know the difference" between the villainous Haman and heroic Mordecai. Sometimes even without being tipsy it seems like the world is indeed topsy-turvy. If stopping "settlement expansion," known locally as building homes in places like Har Homa and Ma'aleh Adumim, could save lives, we would be obliged to do it, not because of the road map, but to avoid the bloodshed. But the terrorist who was able to enter a Jerusalem high school and shoot students as they studied and welcomed the new month was not reacting to construction plans. He can trace his spiritual roots back to Haman just as surely as the Jews still name their children after Mordecai and Queen Esther. Someone supplied him with the weapons and someone taught him how to use them. He might have entered the study hall by himself, but a terrorist organization of some kind made sure he got there and knew what to do once he was inside. And almost inevitably somewhere in the background is Iranian support. In the wake of the massacre, there were many discussions in the press as to whether Ala Abu Dhaim - now let's blot his name out like Haman's - intentionally chose the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva as a symbol of national-religious Zionism. The stream of thought gets us nowhere - or at least nowhere that I want to go. This was an assault on the nation, not a specific sector, just as surely as the 2001 attack on the Dolphinarium was not aimed at Russian immigrants although they were the primary victims, and the bombing of Mike's Place in Tel Aviv in 2003 was not aimed at the secular. The attack was on the country, in its capital. And the country as a whole - through government decisions and its security forces - must be the one to respond. If the attack becomes personal, individuals might be tempted to avenge it in their own way. AMONG MY positive pre-Purim ponderings was that absurdity that Jerusalem must be the only capital city in the world in which parents allow young children to wander freely around parks and playgrounds without fear of kidnappings and worse. But there is an irony in the fact that just as the US is periodically shocked as a student goes on a killing spree on a school campus, Israel every so often - way too often - is shocked that terrorists can sink so low as to attack innocent children in schools, on outings, or relaxing in a mall. We cannot forget, for example, the 1974 Ma'alot massacre in which 21 schoolchildren were killed on a trip. Nor should we forget the 38 people killed in the Coastal Road Massacre, 30 years ago last week, or the spate of terror attacks that killed 63 people in a period of eight days in 1996, just ahead of Purim that year. Let's remember and take revenge the best way possible - by carrying on living and celebrating life. As long as it doesn't rain - either literally or metaphorically - on our Purim parades, I think we should all be happy. And if it really rains in this year of drought, we can still count our blessings.