In Jewish tradition, Haman is the incarnate of Amalek, the grandson of Esau and the namesake for a people ascribed for trying to destroy the Israelites. We speak of blotting out Amalek’s name as he has appeared in history as the Romans, Haman, Hitler, etc. As Jews, we know this storyline all too well, and while there is a tendency to embrace levity around it (i.e. every Jewish holiday has a similar theme of “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”), the seriousness of those who would do us harm seems increasing.
The murderer who killed 50 Muslim worshippers in New Zealand and injured scores more is a form of Amalek. To be clear, a white supremacist who hates Muslims also hates Jews, and Blacks and Latinos and gays and, and, and… We expressed our solidarity and support through our local Muslim community as they grieved over this horrific loss. Our Federation and its JCRC, AJC, and congregations/rabbis spanning all the religious gamut participated in vigils, prayer services and visits of consolation. While everyone expressed a sense of responsibility, in large part as reciprocation for their support of us after Pittsburgh, allow me to suggest that our solidarity against hateful acts of violence because of the religion, ethnicity or beliefs of a people is one of righteousness in honoring the dead (chesed shel emet)—a commandment we perform that is considered ultimate expressly because it cannot be repaid.
Another, far less egregious issue, arose last week in the college admissions scandal. It again showed the disproportionate use of influence and money to circumvent systems. I had two immediate thoughts around it—one was how sad it is that children given every opportunity in life from the best prepatory schools, tutors, materials and experiences still could not get into college on their own merits and secondly, how miserable it is that a charitable foundation was created and used specifically to make these bribes tax deductible. It is an example of the abuse of charities and our charitable system. It’s also the most likely reason that the perpetrators will actually spend some time in jail. It reminded me that the most descriptive and positive attribute of Jewish Federations based on numerous system-wide surveys is that we are trusted. You know that your support of our Federation, with any and all issues you may have with any number of decisions we make, your gift is stewarded through a serious and thoughtful process to fund important needs. The bottom line is you can trust us.
Finally, we awoke to news this week of headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Fall River, Massachusetts—a town I know well from my time at the Federation in Providence, Rhode Island. Next to actual lives being taken, is there something more offensive than the desecration of tombstones? It’s an act of extreme cowardice and hate. The former because what is more defenseless to protect itself than a cemetery. I don’t believe in ghosts, nor does our Jewish tradition, but part of me is hoping for some horror movie-esque retribution for the scum who committed this hate crime.
These are trying times, but I take solace in the joy that we also experience. From receiving mishloach manot from my congregation, seeing one of my rabbis in drag singing to make us celebrate and laugh, scrolling thorugh my Facebook feed and thinking it must be Halloween with the volume of friends and their children and families dressed in costume ready to celebrate our historic victory over Haman to making gifts for the poor (matanot levyonim)—work we do every day at the Federation, as we are commanded to during Purim has warmed my heart, provided hope and most importantly, perspective, that have been here before. We will triumph once again.
PS - Want to see what else I've been saying? Check out my past articles.