From Shushan via Berlin & Moscow to Tehran…writes Michael Kuttner

February 20, 2013 by Michael Kuttner
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As we celebrate Purim this year it is imperative that we take time to remember what it is we are exactly celebrating and why it has relevance for us today. Unfortunately, this Festival in our religious calendar has become for too many a time to get drunk senseless and therefore an ideal opportunity to suffer from amnesia as to why we are celebrating in the first place.

Michael Kuttner

Michael Kuttner

Taking the Rabbinic suggestion to drink so much that we cannot distinguish between Haman and Mordechai to its ultimate limit has distorted and perverted the real reason for observing this day in the first place. It is time to pause and draw some historical lessons from the distant past, more recent events which occurred in our lifetime and present day realities lurking just over the horizon.

The Jews of Shushan and the rest of the Persian Empire faced genocide at the hands of a rabidly anti Jewish politician who had manipulated an entire nation into believing that there existed a group of people in their midst worthy of destruction. Using all the techniques of delegitimisation and demonisation he convinced everyone from the monarch down that these loyal Persian Jews posed an existential threat to the health, welfare and future of the State. It was only thanks to the brilliant counter strategy planned by Mordechai and the courageous under cover actions of Esther that the planned genocide was eventually thwarted. An often overlooked aspect of Purim and one which many “trembling” Jews wish to ignore, is that once the Jews were given permission to defend themselves, they went on to not only do that but also to wreck havoc on those whose declared aim was murderously clear.

I remember a conversation I had in New Zealand with a Presbyterian Minister who declared that the “revenge” carried out by the Jews as described in the Book of Esther, demonstrated the difference between a vengeful Judaism and a “loving” turn the other cheek approach of Christianity. I asked him why he only became excited when Jews fought back against their oppressors and by the time I had finished reciting the countless Jewish encounters with “loving” Christians over the last 2,000 years, he had lost interest in the subject and I never heard from him again. This encounter and subsequent ones merely confirmed what has become all too apparent today when it comes to Israel’s treatment at the hands of a hypocritical international community.

Just as in Shushan so it transpired in Berlin many centuries later where another Jew hater arose and through brilliant use of the same delegitimisation techniques convinced a willing population to embark on a campaign of unbridled hatred against Jews & others which culminated in the biggest tragedy of the 20th. Century. Unable in most cases to fight back, nevertheless where it was possible to do so, many did indeed take up arms against their persecutors. An indifferent world looked on and barred the gates of refuge for those fortunate to flee the inferno. When the Jewish State once again arose from the ashes of the Holocaust the lessons of the recent past became imprinted on our collective memory. Only a strong, self reliant Israel could avert another such catastrophe in the future.

In 1953 another Jew hating tyrant by the name of Stalin was on the verge of implementing an evil decree to round up and banish the Jews of the Soviet Union to Siberia where they would all die in the frozen wastelands of that country. On Purim of that year as the culmination of years of delegitimisation was about to be implemented, Stalin dropped dead and the planned pogrom was halted in its tracks. This modern day Purim miracle marked the very beginning of the eventual disintegration of the Soviet Empire and the exodus of all those Jews who had yearned to leave the communist workers paradise. Anti Jewish hatred and pogroms had long been a staple feature of Russian society. Those who left at least ensured that they and subsequent generations would be able to live lives free from fear and intimidation while at the same time reclaiming their lost Jewish heritage. Unfortunately, too many have still not internalised the lessons of the past and remain in Russia and other parts of Europe where they are prey to the vultures of hate still circling around them.

This brings us to modern day Persia where once again a Haman and his Mullah associates plot and cast lots as to when they should destroy the Jewish State. In their relentless march towards the means to carry this out they are aided by an international community which is not really serious about thwarting them. As North Korea yet again defies the world and marches unhindered towards nuclear independence, Israelis can only shake their heads at the naivety displayed by those who advise us to put our trust in worthless promises and Munich like guarantees. The fact that a Jewish community still functions in Iran is held by some to prove that only evil Zionists are the targets of today’s Haman. What is ignored by those Jews still remaining there and others who believe this fiction is that when the time comes Jews anywhere will be expendable. As we drown out the name of Haman at this year’s reading of the Megillah we should dwell seriously on the looming shadow of the nuclear threat being incubated and hatched in Tehran.

What are the lessons we should draw from Purim? There are several which need to be noted. First, we must resolve never to be defenseless again and to nip evil in the bud before it can blossom into a noxious weed. Second, we can never rely on the goodwill of those whose past actions cast doubt on their genuine willingness to save Jews. Third, we must be resolute in our resolve to thwart those who in every generation wish to destroy us. Fourth, as the delegitimisation and demonisation of Israel gathers pace we must combat this with all the means at our disposal. To remain silent only makes us complicit in a campaign which in the past has prepared the ground for eventual annihilation. Fifth, when a latter day Haman calls us a cancer which must be excised from the earth it is incumbent upon us to take his words seriously. Anything less will only lead us to repeat past disasters.

As the Obama circus big top (or is it flop?) is about to arrive in our midst and the rhetoric swells to a cynical crescendo, let us pause and remember these lessons which Purim teaches us.

Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and works for The Israel Resource News Agency in Jerusalem. 

Comments

One Response to “From Shushan via Berlin & Moscow to Tehran…writes Michael Kuttner”
  1. Tony says:

    “Second, we can never rely on the goodwill of those whose past actions cast doubt on their genuine willingness to save Jews. ”

    Your Presbyterian minister isn’t the only one that has a one-eyed view of Christianity and how it compares with Judaism. His view doesn’t stand up to much analysis. The trouble is, his sentiment is held by many.

    The important thing is to focus on the fact that both Christians and Jews all worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Tanakh could be a unifying force.

    While Christians have made severe and disastrous blunders in the past, I’d like to think that the story of the Torah is meant to illustrate that God is a god of multiple chances and that His lovingkindness and forgiveness is inexhaustible.

    I’d also like to think that this aspect of His character is also meant to be something that He would like His people to cultivate and extend to all humankind. Jews should give them another chance.

    The worldwide Conservative Christian lobby stands as a bulwark for the preservation of Israel and will continue to do so. Sowing mistrust, doubting their commitment and under valuing their work on Israel’s behalf is counter-productive.

    Instead Israel’s people must present a warm and caring face, that empathises with the victims of oppression and continues to put constructive solutions on the world table for discussion. Showing impatience and appearing belligerent undermines support.

    In the meantime, this Purim, my children are shooting pictures of Haman with their Nerf guns and eating their sweets.

    Happy Purim Michael.

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