If you find yourself driving around Jewish districts tomorrow you’ll probably see people out and about, particularly children visiting friends and relatives with gifts of sweets and cakes. Tomorrow is the festival of Purim, the date to remember the Jewish people’s deliverance from a royal death decree around the fourth century BCE, as told in the Book of Esther.
Synagogues will be crowded during Purim. Many people will wear their best clothes while others dress up in colorful costumes and masks. If you find yourself lucky enough to be in Jerusalem during Purim this a great spectacle indeed. Children in particular enjoy dressing up as the characters found in the Book of Esther. Purim gift baskets are exchanged on this occasion. Many Jewish people also donate to charity around this time of the year.
Jewish people comprise a rich cultural mix in the United Kingdom today, where festivals such as Purim are celebrated. Purim commemorates the time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination by the courage of a Jewish woman called Esther. The strange thing is that the celebration is about deliverance! The Jewish people were to be slaughtered, one of the first recorded instances of ethnic-cleansing so to speak. Jewish people through-out history have endured genocides and pogroms and still they celebrate deliverance. How can this be? you may ask. Well go to Purim celebration and the people will tell you. Not through words but through their actions and smiling faces. We could all learn well from the Jewish people.
There are many places around the world today where people just cannot get around to just living their lives. They are concerned with how others live theirs, of destroying or dominating how they live their lives. This is not living.
Take for instance the case of George Galloway a British MP, his party is called RESPECT. He was engaged by the Christchurch College SU to be part of a debate about Israel & Palestine. His response; He was speaking for the motion that ‘Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank’. When the Respect MP for Bradford West learned that Eylon Aslan-Levy, a student opposing it, was an Israeli citizen, he leaves, saying ‘I don’t debate with Israelis’. Attendees were heard accusing Galloway of racism as he exited the room.
This was not respectful I venture.
Neither was it in any way helpful to what is a very complex and demanding situation. Israel is a nation recognized as such by the UN. Palestine by contrast is not, yet they too are recognized by the UN. Whilst the West Bank is a tense place of that there is no doubt, it is never-the-less relatively peaceful when compared to its sister territory Gaza. Gaza is dominated by Hamas, an organisation founded on hate. Not just any hate but hate of Jews.
Hamas could lean much from the history of the Jews and how Purim is celebrated in particular. Hamas should know (if only they had the intellect) that the Jewish people will never go away, they will persist.
Now look at the instance of Cambridge University who invited Marine Le Pen to speak. Sabby Dhalu, a member of Unite Against Facism (UAF), said: “It is a shame Britain’s intelligentsia have not learnt the lessons of history. Cambridge Union’s decision to invite Marine Le Pen is giving her and the Front National a platform and publicity.” I’m not sure I could say it any better, the point is made with irony and intelligence.
Front National policies are racist, discriminate against disabled and homosexual people and are antisemitic. In the UK we have Nick Griffin from the BNP to contend with, a more odious man I’m not so certain you could meet. The BNP hold similar views about the world.
These views are at best unintelligent and limited, but are without question hateful. Thankfully Front National in France and the BNP in the UK are minority, although dangerous, political parties. They have not learnt the lesson of history.
It is our duty in my mind that we seek out those who are subjected to hate, who are vulnerable and find it in our hearts to be their Esther.
Celebrate Purim even if you are not Jewish, it is good for your spirit I suggest.