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Samantha Kahn
A millennial, Zionist, reform Rabbi

Living in an Upside Down World

Photo by Persnickety Prints on Unsplash
When everything is upside down

There is a rabbinic text in which a young man has a near-death experience and sees an upside-down world, an Olam Hafuch. When he tells his father about the vision, his dad, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, responds that he has seen the world clearly. I feel this vision and this answer speaking to me – calling out to shout that the world is, in fact, upside down. 

It’s the season of laughter and games, costumes and cookies, shpiels and squeals of joy for children and adults alike – but this year, Purim haunts me. 

Purim is a topsy-turvy holiday where we celebrate the tenuous nature of existence and the way life can be turned inside out and upside down. We celebrate that when our enemies planned to slaughter us, Ve-nahafoch hu, the opposite happened, and we went from being in danger to celebrating our strength. 

This year feels different, though. It feels as though Haman’s plan for the 13th of Adar finally came to be. It was realized on October 7th, 2023, and now life’s fragility and uncertainty have become points of despair instead of reasons for games.

This world is upside down. And I’m not celebrating. 

Like many American Jews, I read the news aghast by the soaring numbers of antisemitic attacks and incidents. I scroll through social media, heartbroken at the lies and misinformation. I’m dumbfounded how Jews have become the “bad guys” simply because we dare to live, or worse – fight for our lives.  

And now ‘respectable’ nations let their anti-Semitism flourish to such a large extent that they actively work to limit Israel’s ability to defend herself and make speeches undermining Israeli democracy. 

My congregation just screened the film Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre and watched real-time footage and interviews by survivors and first responders from the October 7th attack and slaughter of young people. I saw their faces, all those kids, the happy, peace-loving hippie types – who were gunned down, tortured, blown apart, set on fire, and kidnapped. And there are people in this world, in Western civilized society, who refer to their assailants as freedom fighters. Who claims this cruelty was in any way ‘justified.’ Who believe that this nation shouldn’t try to protect its people from another such massacre occurring. 

The world is upside down. And I am heartbroken.

On Purim, we drink as part of our celebration. We are taught to drink until we don’t know the difference between Haman and Mordecai – a ridiculous assertion that allows for a whole lot of alcohol consumption. I’m realizing, though, that even without drinks in them, many people don’t seem to know the difference. The world is so upside down that “good” and “bad” are not clearly delineated in the minds of the masses anymore.  Thus, this year, our drinks may taste less like alcohol and more like the salt water on the Passover table because our world is upside down.

Where is our Esther? Who can speak truth to those in power and help them see what is really happening?  When will we be able to breathe again? 

Though it’s part of the megillah that doesn’t often make it into the shpiel, our text teaches us that we were permitted to fight for our lives and destroy those who wish to exterminate us. It’s true that we are often uncomfortable focusing on the part of the story when we fought back, but it is an important part of our Purim narrative. We have the right and need to fight for our lives, no matter how upside-down world opinion may be. 

When the world is upside down, it is NOT our job to invert ourselves to please others. Our job is to work to turn the world right-side-up again. We start by protecting ourselves, defending ourselves, and fighting for our right to live in a world without massacres of our people.

This Purim, let’s remember the whole megillah; let us remember that this holiday is about more than cookies, costumes, and games. Let’s be strengthened by our ability to defend and protect the Jewish people. Let us not fall off this upside-down world but rather dig in deep to hold on to the truth that is ours.

About the Author
Rabbi Samantha Kahn strives to instill Jewish excitement, provide guidance, offer counsel, and uncover Jewish passions for all. Kahn is a meaning-seeker, equality endorser, bigotry opposer, mindfulness advocate, social justice champion, and long-time Israel lover. She can also be found on many social media forums, including on TikTok @prettyflyforarabbi. She is a member of the inaugural cohort of the Amplify Israel Rabbinic Fellowship of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. Rabbi Kahn is honored to serve Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, Florida, as its senior associate rabbi.
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