columnJewish & Israeli Holidays

Purim 2024

Laughing at our foes is good therapy during Purim

With the Jewish people threatened by enemies bent on their destruction, as well as faithless friends, the lessons of a happy holiday are needed right now.

At Dizengoff Square in  Tel Aviv, a man dons a costume ahead of the Jewish holiday of Purim in the backdrop of photos of the hostages being held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, March 22, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
At Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, a man dons a costume ahead of the Jewish holiday of Purim in the backdrop of photos of the hostages being held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, March 22, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Perhaps the best news I’ve heard out of Israel in recent months concerned the renaming of a holiday pastry. In the days leading up to the festival of Purim, bakeries in the Jewish state prioritize the selling of hamantaschen, the traditional treat that—depending on which origin story you prefer—represents the three-cornered hat, the pockets or the ears of Haman, the villain of the book of Esther, which is read on the holiday. But this year, instead of selling oznei Haman or Haman’s ears, food sellers are offering oznei Sinwar, after Yahya Sinwar, the senior leader of Hamas in Gaza.

The Jewish people are still struggling to process the events of Oct. 7, when the terrorists masterminded by Sinwar assaulted 22 Jewish communities in southern Israel. Those rampages of murder, rape, torture and kidnapping were conducted with the sort of barbaric cruelty that can only be compared to the worst tragedies in Jewish history.

Since then, as the Israel Defense Forces began its air, ground and sea efforts to eradicate Hamas and thus ensure that these crimes cannot be repeated, the international community and much of the mainstream media have flipped the script on the conflict. The Israelis—the victims of an unprovoked act of terrorist aggression by a group whose purpose is the extinction of the one Jewish state on the planet and the genocide of its people—are now falsely depicted as the perpetrators of a genocide. And the Palestinians, who carried out or cheered the largest mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust, are now widely spoken of as the helpless and blameless victims of this war that they started. More than 100 of the hostages dragged into captivity in Gaza that Black Shabbat morning are still being held by the terrorists, with their fate often forgotten or even deliberately downplayed by those who are only concerned with the safety of those who carried out the crimes on Oct. 7.

At the same time, these events have set off a surge of antisemitism around the world, including across the United States, as so-called progressives have embraced toxic ideologies that have indoctrinated them to believe that Israel and the Jews are “white” oppressors. American Jews have never felt so embattled and unsafe as longtime allies and even some Jews, like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have accepted the lies spread by Hamas propagandists that have encouraged mobs of Jew-haters spouting slogans about Israel’s destruction and terrorism against Jews.

As Purim approached, the renaming of holiday treats in Israel showed that many Jews had not lost their sense of humor, even at a time of great stress and sadness. If after everything that has just happened we can mock, rather than fear, the man who is leading an effort to kill us, then perhaps everything is going to be alright after all.

Lessons in courage

As comedians like to tell us, the basic theme of Jewish holidays like Purim and Chanukah is simple. They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.

Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that. The book of Esther read on Purim, better known as the Megillah, is the quintessential Diaspora story in which the Jews find themselves at the mercy of a foreign power. Yet they survive because a Jewish woman who concealed her identity before marrying the Persian king steps forward at a crucial moment when a powerful Jew-hater is seeking to annihilate her people.

Though it can be said that the Divine is ever-present in this fateful tale in which the outcome was very much in doubt, Esther is the one biblical book in which the name of God is not directly mentioned. The heroine’s courage—and that of her cousin Mordechai—were crucial factors in both saving the Jews and accomplishing the downfall of an evil man and his followers.

Among the many lessons it teaches us, is that good outcomes cannot be achieved solely by prayer and waiting for Divine intervention. Important as those may be, individuals must be prepared to take action to ensure that evil does not triumph on Earth. That involves a willingness to speak truth to power and to realize that even those of us who seem safe and sound cannot stand by and watch silently as Jews are attacked. It also obligates the Jewish people, as they did during this chapter of history, to take up arms in self-defense against those seeking to kill them.

Jews commemorate this close brush with ruin not just with a holiday feast but with jollity, including giving each other gifts of food, costume-wearing for children and adults alike, and even the sort of excess, including drinking, that is normally frowned upon.

And at this particular moment in history, I can think of no healthier response to the current crisis—both on Israel’s borders and in the United States as antisemitism threatens to become mainstream discourse under the guise of leftist ideologies and faux concerns for human rights and the Palestinians—than to make merry and to mock Sinwar and his accomplices.

Five months after the Oct. 7 massacres, Sinwar is believed to still be in Gaza, commanding the last remnants of Hamas’s military forces. It is to be hoped that he ultimately suffers the same fate as Haman, whom the book of Esther tells us was hanged on the same gallows that he planned to kill the Jew Mordechai after his plans to carry out the mass murder of the Jews of the Persian Empire failed.

But calls for a ceasefire in the war against Hamas continue to grow, with even the United States reportedly proposing that the conflict end with war criminals like Sinwar being allowed to escape to a comfortable exile abroad. And so, it’s far from clear that the most recent example of someone attempting to follow in the footsteps of Haman, as well as Adolf Hitler and the long list of those who have attempted to carry out the genocide of the Jewish people over the centuries, will receive the grim justice he richly deserves.

Purim Parade Floats, Jerusalem
Artists prepare installations as part of preparations for the Purim parade in Jerusalem, March 21, 2024. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

The best revenge

That’s a daunting thought. But it ought not to deter us from engaging in the usual Purim frivolity. Indeed, it is at moments like this when we need not just release from daily cares that a holiday offers, but to live it up a bit. There is much to weep about and good reasons to worry about the future. Yet at a time of existential crisis, it is more important than ever to remind ourselves that the best revenge on those who would extinguish Jewish life is for it to be lived to the fullest.

As much as anything, the message of Purim this year must be Am Yisrael Chai—“Israel and the Jewish people live.” Genocidal enemies abound, and most of them, sadly, are on the loose. Their apologists and useful idiots, who seek to save the current generation of Hamans from defeat and elimination, occupy positions of power and influence. But thanks to the existence of Israel, the Jews are not defenseless or prepared to meekly accept the status of victimhood, even if doing so might make them more popular in a world otherwise little interested in Jewish suffering. The people of Israel and Jews everywhere can still celebrate their past deliverance and express confidence that—sooner or later, and despite suffering and great loss—the current war on the Jews will also fail miserably.

That will require the continued courage and skill of the Israel Defense Forces, as well as the willingness of leaders and ordinary Jews alike to emulate Esther and Mordechai. Just as he refused to bow to Haman, Jews must now have the fortitude to do the same when it comes to those who demand that Israel surrender to its foes or the idols of contemporary culture that would deny the Jewish people rights no one would think to refuse to anyone else. And this should be done in a spirit of confidence that will allow us to poke fun at our foes and bring smiles to our faces. Happy Purim!

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.

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