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“So Many Hamans and Only One Purim!”

So says an old Yiddish proverb. The persistence of antisemitism, as evidenced not only by ongoing bias crimes but by occasional words in our own neighborhoods, ever reminds us that we live in an imperfect world, a world sorely in need of great amounts of healing.

Each 14th of Adar we gather to retell the events of Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther. In it, we learn (each year, for we love to recall the happy ending missing from too many other chapters in our people’s history) of Queen Vashti’s banishment, Queen Esther’s annointing, Mordekhai’s rescuing King Ahashuerus, Haman’s plotting to kill Shushan’s Jews, and Esther’s saving the day.

Did it really happen?

Those who say yes, place the story of Esther in Persia of the 4th century BCE. Elie Wiesel will remind the skeptical among us that some stories are true even if they never actually occurred, while other events may have happened but contain no truth. If this is the case, then Purim must be absolute fact ... because its events are all too familiar to us, except of course for that happy ending.

Utilizing fear and hatred of the outsider, an ambitious, upwardly mobil royal adviser named Haman instigates genocide. “Lots” (in Hebrew, pur-eem) are cast to decide the killing date (Adar 14). The population is incited. Weapons are readied. But the Jewish community, well-represented by Mordekhai and Queen Esther (it isn’t every day we have a queen lobbying for us!), succeeds in turning the tables on the wicked Haman and restoring peace to the lives of countless Jewish families.

While the Purim story is filled with moral and religious ambiguities (religious authorities were sorely tempted not to include it in our calendar of holidays), we can’t help but identify with the persecution, and cheer on the eleventh hour reprieve. How we wish such events could have fallen into place during the Crusades, the pogroms, the Shoah. But they didn’t. And it seems only in our stories that we write the happy endings.

But we write them in one other place, as well — in our hearts. The same hearts that inform our minds and our hands. With the result that, from generation to generation, we work to write true stories like our Megillat Esther. Stories about rescued lives. Stories about averted disaster. Stories about redeeming humankind.

Will they really happen? Can’t tell. Yet. But we keep celebrating Purim. And we keep working to bring people together, along lines of understanding and acceptance. Simply because we like stories with happy endings. And we’d kind of like to see our own stories be one of them.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782