Purim and the Present State of the Diaspora

I’ve found that the story of Purim is often recounted till Esther’s victorious triumph over Haman–and the rest is rushed through due to its, eh, violence. Specifically, most people tend to skip over this part:

Mordechai instructed the Jews, the satraps, the governors, and the nobles of the provinces from Hodu to Cush…[saying] that the king had allowed the Jews of every city to gather and stand up for their lives; to annihilate, kill and destroy every army of any nation or province that might attack them, [including their] children and women, and to plunder their possessions…For the Jews there was light and happiness, joy and glory [because] in every province and city to which the king’s edict and law reached, there was happiness and joy for the Jews, a celebration and a holiday. Many of the gentiles converted to Judaism, for fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.

Yeah, that’s basically the part–see, the Jews, who were threatened with genocide, rallied and formed their own paramilitary units, and beat the gentiles so bad that the gentiles became Jews (note: it was a desire to join the Jewish people and not a belief in the God of the Jews that made them Jews).

Re-reading this I can’t help but think about the state of the Jews in the Diaspora today. Specifically, I can’t help but think that we as a people are at an interesting juncture that occurred quite a few times throughout our history–that is, the junction that occurs when Jews are on the one hand accepted by their resident lands, but, on the other hand, people recognize that Jews have loyalties that are not necessarily bounded by the borders of one specific non-Jewish sovereignty or another. That is, pre-Haman, the Jews were just another minority in Persia. Mordechai–himself named after the Babylonian god Marduk (kinda like a Jew now being called Chris)–was basically a lobbyist (he sat at the gate…the “gate” being the “lobby” of yesteryear), and it seems that there a pre-cursor to the united Jewish communities in affect, one that could be tapped into when the warning message was sent out.

And into this environment where the Jews are “normal,” or one can assume better than normal due to the magnitude of the rage against them, steps a guy like Haman, who thinks that Persia has no strategic, political or moral reason to ally with the Jews. Haman makes his argument to the highest of possible decision-makers, wins the concession, and moves to cut the Jews out of the political sphere.

This pattern was repeated in Spain, in Germany, in Russia and elsewhere–everywhere where Jews get too prominent in government or the economy, it seems, a sort of mystical hatred emerges. What is interesting to me, therefore, in the Purim narrative is that the Jews strike back–that is, they don’t just lobby and, once they win, sit back and suck on candy in their blue-and-white robes; instead, the Jews in the Purim story press their advantage, go on the offensive, and show such overwhelming force that the non-Jews realized that these are some bad ass folks and are not to be messed with.

In that regards, I think we have quite a bit to learn from this narrative. No, I’m not advocating violence and looting–but I do think that community whines that break out when communal leaders speak out against anti-Zionists are contrary to this paradigm–and the “wisdom” that they represent, one that calls for us to sit back and be happy that its “never been better,” is not wisdom at all–but rather a folly that the Purim story should rid us of.


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