Last night I attended the first פורים (Purim) of my goy life. For two hours I had a much needed and welcomed respite from Corona, politics, and every other annoyance that recently seems to have permeated my life. This was not the run-of-the-mill Purim. Living and working on a US Army garrison in Germany, being Jewish is also not run-of-the-mill. At any given time, the Garrison’s small Jewish Community may gather ten people at best; except of course during חג פסח (Passover), when active duty service members leave their various remote European deployments and join our small Jewish community for Seder. It’s also the one garrison activity that fills up a room with both Christians and Jews.
Our small intimate Purim totaled ten people. Five active duty service members, and five civilians. Our US Army Rabbi walked in heavy laden with large boxes of Purim goodies from New York, which everyone seemed to know what they held except yours truly. But I caught on fast. Masks, noise makers, colorful plates, and boxes of sweet pastries which I was later told were Hamantaschen. A Purim tradition. Pockets of pastry filled with fruit preserves. My curiosity peaked as the Rabbi, who during the day is a Lt.Col in the US Army, led the way to the “chapel”; which on military garrisons and bases, is a multi-purpose building used by all faith denominations.
How much am I going to understand? Will I be able to participate. I must admit that apart from the story, I had zero knowledge of what to expect. On my third year in Hebrew, I got this crazy idea that maybe I would be fit to read “something”. My presumptuous mind was not prepared for the heavy book that I carried in written in Hebrew with a convenient English translation. I can follow in Hebrew, thought I. Apart for the Rabbi and his wife, none of the others spoke a lick of עברתי (Yvryt – Hebrew). I felt a sense of undeniable cockiness. I was empowered by the knowledge that I could actually read the text, all ten chapters of it! That thought quickly evaporated as the Rabbi started reading/singing in warp speed, and my fingers quickly slid to the English text.
The story of Esther. The Megillah. What epic movies are made of. She puts the #MeToo movement to shame. This was my kind of woman. Unafraid, loyal, assertive, brave, beautiful, and intelligent. She saved her people from Hamam and his goons. I listened and followed the English text with intent. It was mesmerizing. Noise makers poised on cue to shake, rattle, and roll at the mention of the villain, Hamam. As chapters were read and sang, I found myself thinking about the resiliency of the Jewish people and their nation. Haman cast his “lots” and lost like a bad poker player in Vegas. A perfect ending. Good over evil.
Purim not only reminds us of Jewish plight, but of their ability to move forward and put the past behind them. Ten people gathered in a makeshift schul on an Army garrison in Germany, to hear a story about courage, love, and faith. The same story that was being heard wherever Jews gathered to celebrate, remember, reflect, enjoy, and connect. A moment in time that connected all Jews to the same event, so long ago yet still so relevant. Hatred, bigotry and prejudice is still alive and well, so many decades after Hamam.
As we ate our Hamantaschen, and opened our small camouflaged boxes of Purim goodies, we enjoyed each other’s company; celebrating minimally but enthusiastically. As my first Purim came to a close, I reflected on the evening and concluded that it had put my life in perspective. The current Coronavirus hype and hysteria seemed incongruently miniscule compared to the story that I had just heard. A people chosen to be killed because they were Jews. Someone asked the Rabbi if there would still have been Jews in the world if Hamam’s plan would have succeeded? He took a few seconds to answer and reflect. He then quietly replied; probably not. The plan was to eradicate them. Where have we heard that before?
As I drove home late that evening, I could not help but think of the story I had just heard and participated in. It was the story of the Jews; engraved in pain and triumph. In bloodshed and victory. In knowledge and perseverance. From Hamam to Hitler, there has always been a Purim against the Jewish people, but they have always been triumphant in the end. Out of the ashes of Hamam and the Holocaust rose a people who lead the world in science, technology, and medical research. Esther lives in all Jews. Last night, Esther found a place in my life.