The festival of Purim commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from Haman’s plot “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day.” For over two millennia, it has been celebrated with megillah readings, gifts of food, charity, feasting, and merriment on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar – which falls on March 24 this year.
But sadly, in the past two decades, Purim could not always be celebrated.
In the nine days leading up to Purim in March 1996, 60 people died in five acts of terrorism throughout Israel. Fearing more terrorist attacks, people canceled many Purim parties and children stayed home. As a result, many young Israelis remember 1996 as the year without Purim.
At 3:56 p.m. on the eve of Purim 1996, a suicide bomber detonated a twenty-kilogram bomb laced with nails and screws at the intersection of Dizengoff and King George Streets, outside the Dizengoff Center shopping mall in downtown Tel Aviv. Five children in costumes were among the 13 victims, who included a young soldier, two friends out for coffee, a journalist on his way to work, an elderly woman due to meet her son at an Israel philharmonic concert, a woman on her way home from shopping, and a mother and daughter shopping for a wedding dress.
Twenty years later, in March 2016, the headlines read “Purim cancelled in Brussels” following two terror attacks at the airport and subway station, killing at least 31 people and wounding many more, representing over 40 nationalities. The Belgian police requested that the Jewish community cancel their Purim celebrations as the police are unable to protect the community while the city is in a state of war and additional terrorists are feared to be in the area.
Over a thousand members of the Brussels Jewish community were supposed to attend the traditional megillah reading at the Great Synagogue of Europe followed by a performance by the Gat Brothers who arrived from Israel for the occasion. Instead, the community will hold smaller gatherings in order to hear the megillah reading and fulfill the mitzvah of Purim. The Antwerp Jewish community crisis management center as well cancelled events and urged locals not to wear Purim masks, carry toy guns, or use firecrackers as they might cause confusion and are potentially dangerous.
The President of the Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt reacted to the terror attacks, saying that “in synagogues around the world the story of Esther is read this week – a story of the fight between the forces of light and darkness, which will end only by recognizing and knowing without a doubt who the enemy is, and by destroying that enemy. We pray that the EU will know how to join forces in order to fight against the forces of evil, of darkness, and of terror in Belgium, on the internet, in the mosques, and on the streets.”
May the families of the latest victims of worldwide terror be comforted in this time of tragedy; may the wounded recover speedily; may the survivors and the families of the bereaved demonstrate the power to light up the darkness of terrorism, refusing to allow the terrorists to stop their way of life; and may we never again have a year without Purim – at any time or in any place.