Purim, Obama and the Jews

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 |  David Lazarus

Once again, another inexplicable, perhaps even divine spin of events, will bring President Obama to Israel around Purim. Some see this is an opportunity for Obama to press for a renewed peace initiative on the newly elected Knesset. Others, a politicized Obama trying to get himself into the spotlight for some lame foreign policy legacy.

Whatever the reason, the timing of this sudden and rushed decision of the American leadership to visit Israel cannot be ignored. Who can forget their meeting on Purim one year ago when Prime Minister Netanyahu put a magnificent, hand-written manuscript of the Scroll of Esther into the hands of President Obama? With Mordechai-like clarity, Netanyahu declared to Obama, “Mr. President, we must stop Iran, before they destroy us!”

For the Jewish Prime Minister, it is a no-brainer; Israel is facing a modern-day Haman. In his speech to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group, Netanyahu described Haman as "a Persian anti-Semite who tried to annihilate the Jewish people." Netanyahu explained that “In every generation, there are those who wish to destroy the Jewish people. In this generation, we are blessed to live in an age when there is a Jewish state capable of defending the Jewish people.”

This time, even more than ever, Netanyahu’s message must remain clear, and not only to Obama. Purim must be a reminder to all of us, women and men, that we must take action to save ourselves. It is not enough to just allow events to take their course. We must not wait passively for some divine intervention.

That is the message in Esther’s Scroll. Purim is the assurance that the divine hand of intervention will turn the tables on Israel’s enemies, when someone is willing to stand up for what is right. The hero of Purim is neither fate nor consequence. It is the young girl, who with a good sense of woman’s intuition and gentle feminine persuasion convinces a King listen to her plea. It is about the “coincidences” that happen when a faithful Uncle risks everything to stand up for what he believes and does not hesitate to warn his people of impending danger.

While Purim is a constant reminder that Jews have enemies dedicated to our destruction, we learn from the Scroll of Esther that we also can, and should, do something about it. When the chips are down, and it seems like the cards are stacked against us, it is not time to sit around and brood. It is time to remember Purim, a celebration to shake us out of our apathy. It is a call to do something, something we can do, something we should do. Something that could turn the tables on an enemy, foil a foe by his own foolishness, or hang a Haman on his own hemp.

While Netanyahu is said to be considering military action against Iran, Israeli Author Yossi Klein Halevi believes that Netanyahu’s reading of the Purim story is understandable. “Tradition emphasizes that the Book of Esther is the only sacred text in the Hebrew Bible without God’s name in it, and that’s understood as an indication that this is a story that requires human initiative, that saving oneself requires human initiative, and that God’s help is implicit,” he said. In that sense, Netanyahu is reading the Purim story correctly when he calls for active Israeli self-defense against our existential threats.

This year as we approach Purim with a nuclear Iran ticking, killer chemicals floating over the Syrian border, Hezbollah missiles stockpiled in Lebanon, Al Qaida wannabes tunneling under Gaza’s sand hills and civil wars raging on our doorsteps, the stakes have been raised. Long ago the die was cast in the Middle East and we have long since crossed the Rubicon of diplomatic solutions for Israel’s security. Israel cannot and will not risk her survival to rhetoric and wishful thinking. The only question remaining is whether or not President Obama and the United States of America will cast their lot in time to make a difference.

Perhaps this Purim Netanyahu should highlight with a yellow marker for President Obama the passage in Esther that reads, “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place… And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

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