The ‘Celebration’ of Purim

By Richard Edmondson

I’ve been seeing the above image at Jewish websites for the past several days now. It is an ad for a charity known as “American Friends of Meir Panim.” Certainly we want this young fellow to have a happy Purim, and if he’s hungry, by all means, he should be fed a nutritious meal.

But one wonders if, within the ranks of this charitable organization, there is any sympathy for Palestinian children who might be hungry, or who may have had their homes demolished by Israeli bulldozers? The words Meir Panim mean to make people smile, or literally to “light up faces.” Will this charity or its American friends be doing anything to light up the faces of Palestinian children held Israeli jails?

If we visit the Meir Panim website we find this additional image:

along with the following words:

Help spread joy this Purim to thousands of impoverished Israeli men, women, and children!

A delicious Purim Feast will be prepared at the Meir Panim branches in Israel, served in a festive atmosphere. The diners will also receive food baskets to take home.

Take advantage of this timely Mitzvah. With your donation, Meir Panim can guarantee a joyous Purim to those who need it most!

Exploring around the website, I could find no indication of any charitable relief provided to Palestinians. Take note, in the middle paragraph, of the Purim feast dinners that will be served in a “festive atmosphere” at the various Meir Panim locations in Israel. Purim is indeed regarded as a festive occasion in Jewish culture. It is celebrated each year on the 14th and 15th of Adar. In the Jewish calendar, months are measured in terms of phases of the moon, which means that in some years Purim falls in February, while in others it lands in March. The word Purim is derived from pur, which means “lot,” and the festival is sometimes called the Feast of Lots.

The holiday is founded upon the Old Testament Book of Esther, a book which has reinforced the Jewish sense of eternal victimization, perhaps more so than any other text ever written. Told is the story of Haman, a high-ranking palace official, who casts lots to determine the most propitious day for carrying out a massacre of Jews throughout Persia. The following is from Esther 9:24-25, which pretty much sums up in a nutshell what happens:

For Haman, son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is the lot) for their ruin and destruction. But when the plot came to the king’s attention, he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back on his own head.

This is why the Purim holiday is regarded as such a festive occasion—because the evil, Jew-hating Haman gets his in the end. Of course the book doesn’t really explain why Haman disliked the Jews so much. All we are told is that a Jewish character named Mordecai refuses to “bow” to him. For this reason Haman presumably hatched a plot to murder all the Jews of Persia. But his plans are thwarted through the intervention of Queen Esther, who, unknown to Haman, is Jewish herself. And in the end, rather than the Jews, it is Haman himself, his ten sons, plus more than 75,000 other Gentiles who are annihilated.

The book has a number of what Jews would probably regard as wonderful examples of poetic justice. For instance, Haman is hanged on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Also, the thirteenth of Adar—the day Haman had determined, through his drawing of lots, to carry out his plot to destroy the Jews—turns out to be a day of great suffering indeed—but not for Jews. The king issues a royal edict empowering the Jewish population to wage a campaign of violence against Gentiles instead. In the capitol of Susa, 500 people are slaughtered on the thirteenth of Adar, while 300 meet their deaths the following day, the fourteenth. Out in the provinces of the kingdom an additional 75,000 are killed. Yes, a festive occasion indeed.

Purim celebration–Tel Aviv

Both Mordecai and the Jewish queen (who are actually related to each other) play pivotal roles in all this. After successfully pleading for Haman’s execution, Esther also beseeches that his 10 sons be put to death as well, a request the king grants. When finally the killing is over, Mordechai sends a letter to his fellow Jews throughout the kingdom, ordering them, from then on, to set aside the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar as days of feast and celebration. And thus, the Jewish holiday of Purim is born. That is the Book of Esther. The moral of the story is that Gentiles want nothing more than to kill Jews, and that Jews can only guard against this by gaining influence in high places. Interestingly, Esther is the only book in the Bible that makes no reference to God. The Jewish god Yahweh plays no role in the story whatsoever, and in fact is not even mentioned.

Today Purim is celebrated in a number of ways, including the holding of what are known as “Purim Spiels.” These are plays in which the actors, often children, will dress up in funny costumes and act out the Esther story. Traditional fare includes pastries known as Hamantashen, or “Haman’s ears.” Usually these are sweet, however, a recent Haaretz story reports that creative cooks in Israel are now turning out Hamantashen with a salty flavor. “It sounds almost sacrilegious, but this season, a variety of salty and savory versions of the classic holiday cookie are also on offer,” says the report.

Hamantashen, or “Haman’s ears

As I have said before, Purim, which takes place this Saturday and Sunday, tends to be a time of increased bloodshed in the Middle East. Three days ago I put up a post in which I noted that both US wars in Iraq (1991 and 2003) occurred in conjunction with Purim, as did the NATO bombing of Libya in 2011. Something I did not realize or consciously think about at the time of that posting—and have only since discovered—is that Rachel Corrie died two days before Purim of 2003. Purim that year fell on March 18, while Corrie was crushed to death under a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer on March 16. In steering his 49-ton machine of death, equipped with its protective armor, over this young woman who left her comfortable life in America to come and defend the Palestinians, did the Israeli soldier fancy himself a modern-day Mordecai, waging a campaign of vengeance against the Jew-hating Gentiles? The Book of Esther closes with a final comment about the “greatness” of Mordecai.

As I have noted before—numerous times in fact—we still, to this day, do not know the name of Rachel’s killer. The government of Israel has kept his identity hidden. When giving testimony in the 2010 civil trial, he was allowed to do so from behind a curtain. The Corrie family were not permitted to see his face.

My post of three days ago, referred to above, was entitled One Week Before Purim, Nasrallah Issues Warning to Israel. It dealt with a speech given by Hassan Nasrallah in which the Hezbollah Secretary General issued a warning to Israel not to attack Lebanon. The occasion for the speech was Martyrs’ Day, however, as I noted in the piece I wrote, the speech came on February 16—exactly one week before the Purim holiday. Why would the people of Lebanon choose this time of year to observe Martyrs Day? The answer comes from Al Manar:

Hezbollah announced February, 16 to be the date of commemoration for the martyred leaders as their martyrdom fell in different years but in the same week. Sheikh Ragheb Harb was assassinated by an Israeli agent on February 16, 1984. While late Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Abbas al-Mousawi was attending his commemoration anniversary on February 16, 1992, an Israeli helicopter strike attacked his convoy killing him along with his wife and son. On February 12, 2008, Hezbollah’s top military commander Hajj Imad Moghniyeh was martyred also by the Israeli occupation in Damascus by a car bomb.

If we apply a loose definition to the term “Purim season”—and call it anytime between February 10 and March 31—we find that all the above deaths occurred during the Purim season. Additionally, Israel assassinated the wheelchair-bound Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza on March 22, 2004—two weeks and one day after the Purim holiday that year. This is not to say that all deaths at this time of the year are necessarily attributable to Purim. And as we all know, Israel kills plenty of people at other times of the year as well. And moreover, none of this precludes the possibility of a relatively peaceful Purim this year. It is simply a factor worth keeping in mind, in all of its ramifications, as this “festive” Jewish holiday rolls around each year.

   River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian    
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

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