"And Mordechai wrote these things...to command them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month of Adar...the days that the Jews had rest from their enemies...and turned from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning to a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions to one another and to the poor."
On Tuesday, only a few short hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave what some might consider "the speech of his life" in Congress, a group of 16 people boarded planes to head to Morocco for Purim and a chance to visit the Jewish sites of this fascinating country.
Today, with reports of anti-Semitism on the rise in Europe and anxiety in the Ukraine and Argentina as well as the warnings of a nuclear Iran, and a modern-day Haman threatening not the city of Shushan and the satrapies of Persia but Israel and the Middle East, it feels all too much like a topsy-turvy world.
The story of Esther and Mordechai in the Book of Esther is a perennial favorite. Fraught with the twin dangers of assimilation and genocide, friends and enemies, court intrigue and bravery, masquerade and revelation, bonds of kinship and community, the megillah ends with seeming serendipity that ends in "light and happiness, joy and honor".
The story restores hope that we may someday truly have "rest from our enemies."
Arriving in Casablanca, we were provided with the opportunity to see remnants of a rich and colorful Jewish life in diaspora for almost 2000 years. Today the Jewish population has dwindled to about 3000 Jews but the glory of Moroccan Jewish life was on display at the Museum of the Jews, at two synagogues we visited and at the Joint Distribution Committee's (JDC) health clinic, which provides emergency medical care and medicines to the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable within the Jewish community. We felt very proud that our campaign supports the life-saving work the JDC does around the world.
Within hours of our arrival, we were given a panoramic tour and a history lesson covering centuries and centuries of this ancient community. When we arrived at the synagogue tonight for the reading of the megilla, and listened to the recitation of this joyous favorite tale of evil Haman's destruction and the Jews' survival, we joined our brethren in merrymaking and feasting.
Amidst the high spirits and an excellent veal tagine, I reflected that the name of God does not appear anywhere within the megillah. In a post-biblical world where God's face is hidden, we need to depend not on supernatural acts but through human initiative of ordinary mortals to make immortal decisions. We create our future: You and me!
There are four mitzvot at the heart of this holiday which result in a meaningful caring community - both in New Haven and around the world.
- Give gifts to the poor. Doing kindness to others creates community. Making a donation to the poor or needy is part of our tradition. .
While we were at the synagogue this evening, we contributed to those who will never know our names but who will feel uplifted by our compassion.
- Gifts of food to our friends. Nothing brings us together more than when we share in a personal, warm way. We learned that the Sephardim here in Morocco don't make hamantashen but they give goodies of foodstuffs and something called "haman's eyes", instead of his ears or pockets. Either way, these gifts bind us together and we will exchange presents after we go to the shuk in Marrakesh tomorrow.
- Hear the megillah read. We were surprised that the reading this evening was not more raucous. The leader insisted on almost absolute silence so every word could be heard but there were some graggers and much foot stomping whenever Haman's name was mentioned. We've been advised that tomorrow will have more costumes, more drink, and more joyful expressions of excess.
- A festive Purim meal. We Jews like to eat. And all the more so when we have something victorious to celebrate with delicacies and l'chayims!
Just as wicked Haman cast lots to determine on what day he might put his nefarious plot into action, we cast our lots in life to make our community inextricably tied to world Jewry and to each other.
Chag Purim Sameach