15/16 March 2024, 6 Adar II 5784

The money and the [Jewish] people are yours to do with as you see fit.(Book of Esther 3:8)

Purim has always been understood as the most joyful day of the year. Silliness, dressing up, a carnival-Mardi Gras mood prevails. However, the Book of Esther is, as we know, a story of intense crisis and violence.

Initially, Jews face the existential threat of being attacked and destroyed, then at the end, Jews kill their enemies on a massive scale. It was considered so violent, so embarrassing even, that Liberal Judaism banned its celebration for decades. Rabbi John Rayner stated Purim has long been a bête noire in Liberal Judaism. It has been described as unhistorical, irreligious and unethical. It was only brought back in the 1980s when he preached that the community could cope with levity and imaginative play.

I wonder what he would say this year.

In the wake of October 7, these crises of Purim feel very real as we mourn unimaginably cruel acts of violence against Israelis, witness increased antisemitism and fear in Jewish communities worldwide and witness so many Palestinians killed in recent months.

I’m intrigued by what the Book of [Megillat] Esther teaches us about holding together both realities of violence against Jews and violence by Jews. Many communities are choosing to look at this prior to next Saturday’s Purim, when our children and musicians will help tell the story. What might we glean from the story this year, especially about responding in moments of deep fear?

This Shabbat we will learn and discuss during the service – deepening our Jewish literacy and sharing it.

Shabbat Shalom,