Part of me struggled with celebrating Purim this year, given how closely we continue to follow the horrific conflict in Ukraine. In the face of fighting and suffering and the urgent critical work we are doing every day with our partners to support people in need -– how was it appropriate to be silly, celebrate, and have fun?
And then I saw the announcement and invitation to a worldwide (in-person and virtual) Megillah Reading at the Golden Rose Synagogue in Dnipro, Ukraine. “Be Part of the Purim Miracle,” it said.
Even as they fight for their lives, provide humanitarian aid to thousands of people from across Ukraine, and evacuate many of those who can get out, our brothers and sisters in Dnipro filled the synagogue and read the Purim story with passion, urgency, and hope. The city’s Chief Rabbi, Shmuel Kaminezki, spoke about the history of the synagogue and the cycles of oppression that its Jewish community have endured and overcome – themes of the Purim story and Jewish history that resonate profoundly with the challenges they are facing today.
The image of the Dnipro community reading the Megillah under such dire conditions reminded me that hope and resilience are calling cards of the Jewish People.
Think of the places throughout our history where we have prayed, lit Hanukkah candles, eaten shabbat meals, studied Torah, and more – refusing to break the chain of Jewish history and tradition even under impossible conditions, not knowing how long we would survive. Continuing to proudly wear our identities on our sleeve, to honor our traditions, and to gather in community are forms of spiritual resistance in the face of forces that try to destroy us.
The Purim story is a satire of how absurd, random, and upside down the world can be, and how out of control that can make us feel. Satire, silliness, humor, and joy are also forms of spiritual resistance against the absurdity of our world. As one of my earliest spiritual teachers used to say, “laughter is transcendent.” At the same time, as the heroic Esther reminds us, we must never lose our agency and our ability to act. Sometimes, we can even change the course of history.
So, inspired by the resilience of the Dnipro Jewish community and deeper messages of the Purim story, I found much-needed connection and joy in Purim this year. On Wednesday night, I participated in my community’s Purim puppet show at the new, intergenerational Congregation Kehillath Israel campus here in Brookline.
Being surrounded by a sea of energetic and costumed children gave me nachas (happiness and pride) and hope for our next generation. Yesterday, our CJP staff came together for in-person and virtual celebrations with costumes, games, and Purim fun, all of which offered some levity and rejuvenation as we continue our critical work on behalf of our community.
As spring approaches and we shift our sights to Passover and the important work of the months ahead, may the resilience, hope, and joy of Purim continue to give us energy and strength.
Rabbi Marc Baker
About the Author
CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker is an educator, writer, and leadership mentor who is devoting his life to Jewish learning and building Jewish communities.