Elchanan Poupko

The laws of a post October 7th Purim 

Members of Kibbutz Be'eri celebrating Purim in 1965 (photo by Yisrael Parker, public domain)

On March 23rd, the Jewish people will be observing the joyous holiday of Purim during the most difficult year the Jewish people has known since the Holocaust. This requires us to think hard about how we will be observing this Purim. I pray my hardest that things get better, but as I am writing these words, 134 Israelis are held hostage in dark Hamas tunnels, hundreds of thousands of Israelis are internally displaced, hundreds of families are grieving their lost sons and daughters, Jews in the diaspora are facing a torrent of antisemitism we have not seen since the Holocaust, and hundreds of rockets are raining in on Israel’s north. Jews have observed Purim in the most tragic of times, but there are adjustments rabbis, federations, rabbinical organizations, and community members must advocate for. Here is what must be done differently this year on Purim:

Firecrackers – the large number of IDF veterans carrying the painful burden of PTSD is beyond anything we can imagine. Sometimes it is just the crackling of a door that can trigger a traumatic response or have them dashing for their weapons. Diaspora communities are also on edge due to skyrocketing numbers of domestic threats. Rabbis, lawmakers, and communities must issue strongly worded and clear prohibitions on any kind of firecrackers and fireworks among us. Issuing strict banns on all and any firecrackers will show those returning from combat how much we value them. A ban like this will be restorative in showing soldiers our understanding and solidarity and has the potential to prevent a tragedy that can come from people mistaking firecrackers for live ammunition and explosives.  There should be zero tolerance for any kind of firecrackers in Jewish communities in Israel and abroad.

Mishloach Manot – while we will be celebrating Purim in our homes and communities, there are still thousands of soldiers stationed in the cold of the Golan Heights, the heat of the Jordan Valley, and in the depths of Gaza. We must do everything we can to show those soldiers we are thinking of them and caring for them. If you live in Israel, you can deliver it yourself, if you have relatives in Israel you can ask them to deliver it. Organizations like Dana Gat’s food delivery for soldiers, Belev Echad, and others who deliver food to soldiers are ready and able to help with this. The least we can do for soldiers who left their families and jobs to defend Israel’s existence is to appreciate them and make sure they do not feel alone on Purim.

Costumes – the role of social media disinformation has been the hurricane behind the most recent wave of antisemitism and disinformation campaigns against Israel. Yes, our enemies will find ways to malign us regardless of what we do, but let us not be their suppliers. What you think is a funny joke you posted on your family WhatsApp group can find its way to millions of views in TikTok, mislabeled as a damning act of hate. Communities must do everything to remind our friends and children to be extremely cautious when thinking about costumes. Costumes that can be construed as hateful, racist, insensitive, or hurtful to others should never be an option. Your kids’ school Purim video, your cousins planned TikTok Purim Shpeil, or your Nahafoch Who (opposite) sarcastic lines can all land in places you never imagined and provide excellent content for our worst enemies who will lie and say it was said seriously, deliberately, and that it represents the character of all Jews. Educators, rabbis, and communities must make this clear to everyone.

Matanot La’Evyonim Charity – there are countless good and honest causes out there you can donate to. Yet the obligation to give charity on Purim is specifically to the poor. The ongoing war in Israel has brought many in Israel to financial hardship. Those who are internally displaced can no longer operate their farms and businesses, and soldiers who got called up cannot keep their businesses running. This Purim, make sure you give only to causes supporting the needy among us. Make sure you prioritize soldiers and their families if they are in need. Make sure you prioritize giving to Israeli families impacted by this war. Give and give generously – but also make sure you give judiciously to those who need your support most.

Purim Meal – In a year like this, many Jews feel more isolated than ever. Jews who have been abandoned by their colleagues, friends, communities, classmates, and those who they thought would surely stand up to the blatant antisemitism we are seeing all over. This Purim is an opportunity to reach out to those Jews, include them in your meal, and let them know that, no matter what, we will always be there for one another.

Joy – Jews have celebrated Purim under the most difficult of circumstances. Joy, humor, and celebrating life have helped keep us going even through the darkest of times. Yet in this joy, we should be able to find a way to acknowledge what is happening, to express that our celebration of joy is in defiance rather than indifference to what is happening. We will acknowledge the pain, the loss, the hostages, the families that are hurting, and those grieving. At the same time, we will celebrate who we are as a people, the miracle of the Jewish people surviving everything from Haman to Hamas, and the resilience of our people. Being able to celebrate, to rejoice, to be festive in the face of the bleakest of times is in our DNA.

Kids – While there might be reasons for diminished celebrations this year when it comes to children and Purim, we must all go out of our way to increase those celebrations and joy. Jewish children, regardless of their age, have experienced a more difficult year. The shockwaves of antisemitism have been felt through every Jewish home, school, and synagogue. Whether it is increased measures of security, hearing whatever it may have been about October 7th or the various precautions Jewish families have been taking this year. We must do everything we can to give our children a boost of Jewish joy and pride. Jewish children should be celebrating a Purim filled with happiness and pride. Our children should celebrate the victory of good over evil, our belief in a God of Deliverance and Providence, and a people who know how to laugh in the face of our most fearsome adversaries.

Humor – Purim is a time we use our humor. Jews have been blessed with an extraordinary sense of humor, partially because of our need to make sense of the most senseless situations. Purim can be an excellent time to harness the power of humor to confront current-day challenges. Purim is a time we can laugh at antisemites but with good taste and sophistication. Purim is a time we can look our challenges in the eye, know there is so much more for us to confront, but also let our enemies know we will be sure to have a good laugh while fighting back. Happy Purim, and may we see the hostages back home soon.

About the Author
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a New England based eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher, and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is the president of EITAN--The American Israeli Jewish Network.
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