Monday, March 6, 2023

Purim duty.

          "Esther before Ahasuerus," by Artemisia Gentileschi (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

     Religious observance was never my strong suit. Usually I'm being prodded by someone else. My parents, for the first decade and a half of life. My wife for the past, gee, four decades. Otherwise, I tend to let things slide.
     With the exception of a few small gestures that I've absorbed and will perform unbidden. Leaving a Jewish home with a mezuzah on the door, I will reflexively touch it and then kiss my fingertips, which, now that I think of it, can't be hygienic in this COVID era. I never thought of mezuzahs as fomites (sigh, physical objects that transmit disease). Though I bet someone has. Sure enough, Israel's chief rabbi, David Lau, encouraged Jews not to touch mezuzahs, because COVID. Given our dwindling numbers, it makes sense for the faith to skew toward self-protection. 
     Speaking of danger, Purim, which begins Monday night, along with Passover and Hanukkah, are what I consider a they-tried-to-kill-us-but-couldn't holidays. Instead of the Egyptians or Greeks, we have Persian King Ahasuerus. While the Passover story is told by reading the Haggadah at a Seder meal, and Hanukkah gets conveyed in really bad songs, the Book of Esther is often acted out in a synagogue — my mother still talks about the turn I did as a teenager as Haman, the evil adviser to the king who tried to do the Jews in.
     I imagine the Purim story is far less familiar to non-Jews than the Exodus. Without going into too much detail, bad guy Haman wants the Jews dead. Scaffolds are erected, but Ahasuerus's hot new wife, Esther, a secret Jew, intercedes on their behalf and saves them.
     This story actually has a fleeting recent relevance to American politics, When Donald Trump took office, the more sentient Jews worried that, despite his continual lip service to the State of Israel, having a stone bigot in office might not ultimately be good for the tribe. Stephen Miller — or sometimes Steve Bannon — seemed a nearly Haman-like figure. 
    Which led worried Jews (or is that redundant? Judaism and worry being tightly twinned) to invoke Trump's daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism in order to marry Jared Kushner. 
      "Can Ivanka Trump become our Queen Esther?" is how the Forward, the venerable New York Jewish newspaper, put it in a headline. She would intercede with King Trump and keep him from whatever edicts he would lay down against us, forgetting that a) the objects of bigots are fungible, and once hatred is tolerated it gets around to everybody who is considered fair game and b) Ivanka wouldn't go out a limb for anybody.
      There was something truly pathetic in the "she will be our Esther" trope and it didn't take long for Jews to give up the notion.
      "Ivanka Trump Fails the Queen Esther Test," the Israeli daily Haaretz headlined in 2017, describing a situation that should have been no surprise.
     "During the first two weeks of the Trump administration, Ivanka hasn’t been seen fighting for anything" the newspaper wrote. "Rather disastrously, Ivanka appeared callous and out-of-touch when she uploaded a photograph of herself and her husband onto Instagram dressed elegantly for a night on the town, as protests over immigration ban were erupting. Unflattering comparisons were made to a different queen — Marie Antoinette."
     Turns out indifference toward suffering is hereditary.
     "Ivanka and Jared’s silence has been deafening, as hate crimes against Jews skyrocket along with other forms of racist violence including three waves of bomb threats to Jewish community centers across the country," Haaretz wrote.
    Where was I? Oh yes. Sunday morning found me driving, at my wife's direction, to Tel Aviv Bakery on Devon Avenue, early, for the ritual buying of the hamantaschen, in honor of Purim. Some demands of faith are easier to comply with than others.


  1. To think that any member of the Trump family could (or would) conjure up care or recognition of anyone outside of their immediate orbit is funny but not funny. I’ve heard that one or two of them tried to get daddy to try to stop the insurrection. My guess is those efforts had nothing to do with the old “protect the democracy” thing and more to do with daddy’s legacy.
    I’m happy to hear that your mom is with you. I hope that her health is good.

  2. Ivanka T****: A bigger waste of oxygen than her rotten to the core father, because she should know better, but refuses to learn from his disgusting example of how not to be a good person. She married another equally horrible person, a man who's as crooked as her father & then manages to scam $2 billion out of the Saudis for some absurd investment fund, which is just the biggest bribe ever paid. The real question is, just what were the Saudis getting out of Jared, as he's no longer got any power, or was it for previous services rendered to them? The best part for those of us who know what grifters they all are, is that Jared is so incompetent that he will somehow piss all that money away, just like that building in Manhattan he paid double its worth & then got bailed out by the Qataris on that stupidity, which was a definite bribe, because at that time Jared was an official advisor to his corrupt father-in-law & was given a security clearance he never deserved, since his questionnaire to get it was a failure & he only got it because the even more corrupt father-in-law ordered that it be granted!

  3. Jared is just like his father in law. Inherited a load of money from his oligarch father and insists on finding dubious ways to “invest” it. Russia has nothing on us when it comes to oligarchs.

  4. The Purim story is both a lot deeper and a lot scarier than your capsule description. People who are not familiar with it would do well to actually read the Book of Esther.

    1. Thanks for that suggestion. I believe I'll do just that as I'm not very familiar with it myself. This was an interesting column and a great suggestion.


    2. Yeah, Mr. Richard, damn was scary. Scary as hell. Haman is the main antagonist in the Book of Esther, who according to the Hebrew Bible was an official in the court of the Persian empire under King Ahasuerus. He's often compared to Hitler, for his toxic brand of anti-Semitism, but he was not the Fearless Leader of Persia. More like a different Adolf...Eichmann...the underboss who was one of the major organizers of the Holocaust--and who assisted in the implementation of "the answer to the Jewish Question"...the "Final Solution" that resulted in the extermination of millions.

      When religious pests darken my door, I simply point to my mezuzah. Many of them have no idea what it is. Sometimes, instead merely of telling them "I'm Jewish"...I just put my index finger on it and say: "I bought this thing to keep you clowns it must be broken. Dammit! Now I gotta send it back!." Most of the time, they're still completely clueless.

      Your mention of the Haggadah jogged my memory, Mr. S. My kid sister has been a member of a chavurah (Hebrew for: "fellowship") for decades. A chavurah is a small group of like-minded Jews who assemble for the purposes of facilitating Shabbos and holiday prayer services, sharing communal experiences such as lifecycle events, or for Jewish learning. They couldn't come up with a moniker for their outfit, so it simply became Chavurah Shmavurah...I don't know what you call that rhyming thing...but it's something that Jews do a lot of.

      They even wrote their own Reform Haggadah for Passover. The decision of what to call it was bestowed on one of their founders, whose name was David. It became known forevermore as "In Haggadah Davida."

      Always leave 'em laughing.

    3. My mother used to do that — use the mezuzah as a visual aid when sending away religious solicitors.

  5. Thank you for this look into a Jewish holiday and custom I am unfamiliar with since I am a non-Jew. I am always fascinated to learn more about your culture and beliefs.

  6. Amen to all these comments. And a very bad end to the Drumpf family. Too bad they're not a streaming show, so Netflix could cancel them.

    1. I guess you weren't around during the Viet Nam War, when the joke was to put it on ABC & it would get canceled in 13 weeks, because ABC's shows were disasters that got canceled after 13 weeks.
      And Tim Conway had so many flop shows, his California license plate was "13 WKS"

  7. I was raised in Niles, so I have never known I life that didn't intersect with Jews. I checked out the Tel Aviv Bakery and was disappointed that it wasn't in an old storefront with Hebrew lettering on the inside of the glass, like so many establishments from my original neighborhood east of there. Purim wasn't talked about that much, but tales of anti semitism are horrific and numerous so I guess it got lost in the shuffle. I gave up my adult quest to read the Bible at the second chapter of Genesis which left me a little short of Esther.

  8. Neil, I love how you write and think and am so grateful for your blog. Re the Jewish holidays (I am Unitarian but I have a Jewish son-in-law and three granddaughters whose bat mitzvahs I have attended) when I asked my Jewish friends about a particular holiday, their response was something on the order of, “They’re all basically the same Dianne, they tried to kill us and now let’s eat!” BTW, would love your experience of the Chris Rock live stream special on Saturday night. Thanks. Dianne


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