On Purim this year, I went to hear the Megilla at our shul (Megillat Esther=Book of Esther, read/chanted aloud from a scroll on Purim). There were two concurrent readings going on, and I chose the “no-frills” option in the hall on the lower level. This is the Megilla reading for “grown-ups”, with few or no small children running around, minimal noise-making when Haman’s name is read, and is often recited at a faster pace than the “regular” reading upstairs in the main sanctuary. In other words, perfect for someone like me.
After many years of only hearing bits and pieces of the Megilla because I was there with my own small children, or some years not even going at all because I needed to stay home with a baby, I greatly appreciate these quick Megilla readings. It’s not that I don’t want to celebrate the holiday, or that I’m being a party-pooper, it’s just that now that I’m 50+, I find myself not having the patience to sit through a long…anything. Prayer services, lectures, speeches, movies. But I did my best to follow along with the reading, and I was actually enjoying it, thinking to myself how nice and quiet it was. I could hear every word being read. It was lovely.
Until…someone entered the hall through the back door. It looked like a teenager, but he was in full costume, so I couldn’t say for sure. He was wearing a head/face mask and had chains over his shoulder and torso. He was also holding a fake gun. Maybe it was a cap gun. To me, it looked like a prop gun, or even a real gun, it was so realistic. He didn’t sit down, but walked rather slowly up and down the aisle. He seemed to be scoping out the room, albeit through his full face mask. He then opened a door to a side room and went in, closing the door behind him. My heart skipped a beat and I suddenly felt that something wasn’t right. I looked around me but no one else seemed to have even noticed this boy/man. But all I could think about was that there was an unknown person with a gun in the room next to us. For all I knew, he was loading his ammunition at that very moment, and was going to burst open the door and spray us all with bullets, like in the final scene of Scarface. Or like a terrorist.
This is a very real fear. It’s a fear that we in Israel have to live with on a regular basis. We are under constant threat of attack- shooting, stabbing, car-ramming, bombing. Those who are always criticizing Israel’s policies towards our hostile neighbors, while they themselves are living peacefully in another country, have no idea what it’s like to be here. Standing at a bus stop, walking down a busy street, driving home. It could happen at any time and any place. We pray daily that our children and loved ones will be safe when they leave the house in the morning. We are always looking around us. We are always on guard. We don’t know if the person next to us on the bus is actually a terrorist, waiting for the opportunity to attack. We are acutely aware of our enemies that live in our midst. It is ingrained in all Israelis from the time they are born. This is why it sickens me to hear people condemning us for trying to protect ourselves, for doing all we can to catch the terrorists who have murdered and maimed our citizens. What right do foreign ambassadors and government officials have to berate our government, our army, for going into an Arab village to capture a terrorist in his hiding place? These foreign nations would do the same thing in our situation. I’m so sick of hearing that our response to these vicious attacks on our people is too severe, disproportionate. We in Israel know that it is most definitely not. It is not even enough, as many of these terrorists are repeat offenders who have been released from prison, only to carry out more attacks. They should never have been free to commit these heinous murders to begin with. To add insult to injury, in the midst of trying to protect ourselves, we continue to be scolded by other nations for attempting to overhaul our judicial system (more on that topic another time). It’s as if we are being reprimanded by our parents for misbehaving. We are being told to stay in our place and not move. Pathetic.
So back to Purim, where I sat in the last row, frozen with the fear that there was a terrorist in the room. I don’t know how long he was in there for, but eventually the door to the side room opened and a few kids came out, laughing. That’s a good sign, I thought. Then the costumed teen (potential terrorist?) emerged, without his mask. It was just a kid from shul. I let out a sigh of relief. I could focus on the megillah reading again, knowing all was well, at least for now.
I hope everyone had a peaceful and joyous Purim.