On the holiday of Purim, we read the Book of Esther and learn the story of how the courageous Esther entered the palace of King Achashverosh and saved the Jewish People from destruction. This is a profound literary work riddled with satire of a society and its leaders, followers, social norms, and (absent) moral values. In the city of Shushan, there are no visible laws or moral codes to which people and leaders are held accountable. Leaders serve their own egos rather than their people. Suffice it to say, Shushan is the opposite of the kind of community or society we aspire to build and be part of.
The Purim story felt especially poignant this week when I met with friends, colleagues, and leaders from across Greater Boston who are working together for the common good.
Yesterday, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who has served the Archdiocese of Boston for almost two decades and is a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinal Advisers, welcomed several professional and volunteer leaders from the Jewish community to the beautiful Cathedral of the Holy Cross. We spoke at length about the rise in antisemitism and how we might build upon and continue to deepen the strong relationships between Jewish and Catholic communities here in Greater Boston. This meeting among friends reflected the impact of investing in personal relationships with other faith communities and the trust that has been created through decades of collaboration.
Just a few hours later, I witnessed impact of a similar kind at the Jewish Community Relations Council’s (JCRC’s) annual Legislative Reception, held in person for the first time since COVID. Massachusetts political leaders and leaders from Jewish cultural and human service organizations gathered to discuss and celebrate all that we have achieved together for the good of the commonwealth and its citizens. You could feel the dynamic energy in the room.
In her first address to a Jewish audience since her inauguration, Governor Maura Healey expressed gratitude to JCRC and, like the Cardinal earlier, affirmed her commitment to stand with us against antisemitism. Other congressional leaders shared deep appreciation for their relationships with the Jewish community and for the partnerships that enable us to get more done and do more good in the world because we are building a shared society together.
Both meetings were powerful illustrations of why the work of community relations and strengthening allyship are so essential for the safety, well-being, and flourishing of Jewish communities — and our society more broadly — especially in the face of the toxic polarization that threatens the social fabric and individuals’ security and dignity.
In The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism, Yuval Levin writes of reweaving social bonds and reviving our commitment to the common good:
“Our national revival will ultimately depend on our ability to revive human-sized institutions of various forms and characters: familial and communal, social and political (of all parties and stripes), charitable and commercial, educational and spiritual, sacred and profane. We will recover our strength and also our unity by living more of our lives at eye level with one another.”
I can’t think of a better phrase to describe yesterday than “living more of our lives at eye level with one another.” We need more of this as an antidote to divisions and dehumanization, and as a path forward of tikkun, a repair, of our relationships, our society, and our world.
Rabbi Marc Baker