Purim on ice

A local rabbi shares his thoughts on the second Purim of the pandemic.

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Rabbi "Olaf" Tachman spiels from home in 5781.

Recently I discovered an artifact in the trunk of the family minivan: a tattered script from last year's Temple Purim Spiel. 

Remember Purim 5780? Just 12 lunar months ago but it seems oh so long, long ago. 

So much has changed. 

Last spring, synagogue sanctuaries were crowded with noisy revelers. We belted out " Chag Purim" and we boisterously booed Haman. There were handshakes, hugs, hamantaschen, and hilarity. Children, dressed as Esther and Mordechai, played Purim carnival games and what a grand time it was for all. 

Back then, we had heard about COVID-19, but the virus was a vague, distant threat. "Just like the flu," we said. "Just wash your hands, you'll be fine!" In Israel, school children celebrated Purim by dressing up as doctors sporting surgical gowns, gloves, and masks. Who could have ever guessed that an entire year later, the masks Israelis children wore in jest, would be the same masks we wear every day for safety! 

In a way, Purim this year reminds me of a past spiel , which was a mash-up of the Esther story and Disney's Frozen . Like the events in the popular movie, today we all find ourselves stuck in a strange reality, a Purim loop of sorts; a drama re-lived each day which keeps the scary parts and leaves out the humor. 

Just as Megillat Esther opens with depictions of great prosperity, so too did 2020 open as the United States experienced a booming economy with a record low unemployment.

In Persia, unreasonable and unenforceable proclamations were sent throughout the land as a response to Queen Vashti courageously disobeying her husband, the King: "Every man should wield authority in his home." (Esther 1:22) Last year, days after Purim, in Illinois and throughout the country, reasonable precautionary health and safety proclamations were issued, but not embraced by all. 

In the capital, Shushan, the insidious virus of antisemitism found a host in Haman and replicated throughout the Empire, endangering Jews. Last spring, a contagious novel virus suddenly became a modern-day pandemic threatening the lives and livelihoods of people worldwide. At the same time, antisemitism has also been on the rise.

Purim tells of the unmasking of that which was hidden: Haman's hatred, Esther's identity, and God's saving power. Events of 2020 likewise have revealed societal problems previously present but unseen: socio-economic disparities, job, food and shelter insecurities, racial injustice, flaws in our health care systems, and deep divides of opinions. Concurrently, less visible issues such as mental health and domestic abuse have grown in severity under the stress of the current circumstances. 

There is a bright side: Esther, aware of the danger, told Mordechai to assemble the Jews and ask them to fast. This was a show of communal solidarity. Our Jewish community has likewise come together to address critical needs unlike ever before. JUF's response to this pandemic has been inspirational and exemplary. Local synagogues and Jewish organizations have designed new and innovative ways to serve spiritual needs. We have drawn strength from one another and found resilience through faith, Jewish rituals, Shabbat, holidays, and traditions. 

Purim is all about heroism. Esther takes a risk and stands up for her people. This year we have witnessed countless examples of courageous and selfless acts; health care professionals, first responders, essential workers, community leaders, and many others who extended themselves to lessen the burden of COVID-19. We are especially grateful to the brilliant scientists who worked tirelessly to bring forth a vaccine in record time. 

Ultimately, Purim is a story about hope. The holiday reminds us that fasting will give way to feasting. Grief will give way to healing. One day we will blot out the memory of this time and yet never forget. 

In due time there will be "lots" to celebrate. We will again enjoy festive public gatherings, hugs, singing, and joyous laughter. We will continue to care for those in need and stand up for the oppressed. We will hand deliver shalach manot to our friends, and in crowded sanctuaries we will yell "BOO" for Haman and for COVID. Yes, there will be happiness again, perhaps as soon as this month!

As the Talmud declares: "When Adar enters, joy increases." May we all experience such joy soon! Chag Purim Sameach! 

Rabbi Taron Tachman is the Rabbi of Beth Tikvah Congregation in Hoffman Estates. 

 



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