By Anthony Arnello
Purim at first glance appears like a version of Halloween, New Years, and the County Fair all combined, but there’s much more to it than that. Purim celebrates the saving of the Jews by Queen Esther. For those who don’t know, here’s a paired down version of the Megillah: Esther was not born to royalty, but was instead chosen out of many to become King Ahasuerus of Persia’s new wife.
At first, since she does not appear Jewish, she does not make her heritage known. However, it’s discovered that the king’s advisor, Haman, is hatching a plan to kill the Jews, so her uncle Mordecai urges her to reveal her true identity. Amidst fear of death, she tells the King of her Jewish background and urges him to stop Haman. King Ahasuerus condemns Haman, his plan is foiled, and the Jews are saved.
Purim is about celebrating the courage and the heroinism exemplified by Esther. It’s about the “masks” we all wear each day to get through life, but it is also about knowing when it’s necessary to peel back a façade to do what is right. The rabbis teach us that Purim and Yom Kippur are “two sides of a coin.” Without diving into the theological and Hebrew reasonings for this teaching, the takeaway is that Purim is important!
Though this holiday might not be one of conventional religiosity and admiration of God, it leaves us with an important lesson and calling: to recognize that the voice of one may save the lives of many. Antisemitism has been around for as long as there has been a Jewish people. It is an unfortunate reality that comes with choosing to be chosen, but as scary as it can be to choose to deal with antisemitism, there is also a power in this path.
As Jews by Choice, we come from varied backgrounds; different ethnicities with unique experiences, histories, and understandings. In the face of rising antisemitism, in some ways we are lucky. We may or may not “look Jewish” or have backgrounds which are conventionally Jewish, but we ARE Jews. Esther teaches us that part of being chosen is choosing to do what is right, even when it is scary. We can explain and advocate in ways others cannot and we must use our strengths to strengthen and help the Jewish people, our people, just as Esther did.