From Our CEO
Finding Joy this Purim
March 22nd, 2024

Yesterday, tens of thousands of Jews — from New York to the Kotel in Jerusalem to countries around the world — recited the Shema at precisely the same moment, praying for the well-being of the more than 130 hostages still being held captive by Hamas in Gaza.

Hear, O Israel. The Lord is our God. The Lord is One.

We’re instructed to say the Shema three times a day. It’s the first prayer parents teach their children, recited every night at bedtime. The words people say at the moment of impending death. The simplest, purest declaration of faith.

The global recitation of the Shema was timed to coincide with the Fast of Esther, which commemorates a pivotal moment in the Purim story.

Haman, the king’s viceroy, devised a plan to annihilate the Jews of Persia. Mordechai comes to his niece, Esther — a hidden Jew and now the queen — asking her to plead on behalf of her people before the king. Initially, she is reluctant. She would be risking her life appearing before the king unsummoned; worse yet, she’d be revealing her true identity. Mordechai famously says, “Who knows, perhaps you’ve attained to a royal position for just such a time as this.”

Esther courageously agrees to approach the king. However, first she asks Mordechai to “gather all the Jews” and have them fast with her. Their prayers will give her strength.

And so we, too, gathered all the Jews for the hostages and for their families. We gathered for one another.

Which brings us to the holiday of Purim, beginning this year on Saturday evening.

It’s supposed to be the happiest and most lighthearted day of the Jewish calendar, celebrating our victory over Haman. In fact, we’re told to “increase our joy” in the Hebrew month of Adar in anticipation of Purim. But how to celebrate this year, when none of us have very light hearts?

The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zt"l, wrote about the difficulty of celebrating Purim in a post-Holocaust world, a message that resonates deeply in the wake of October 7. He tells us that Purim is about “therapeutic joy” and makes the case for humor as an act of defiance:

“Precisely because the threat was so serious, you refuse to be serious — and in that refusal you are doing something very serious indeed. You are denying your enemies a victory. You are declaring that you will not be intimidated...You surround yourself with the single most effective antidote to fear: joy in life itself. As the three-sentence summary of Jewish history puts it: ‘They tried to destroy us. We survived. Let’s eat.’ Humor is the Jewish way of defeating hate.”

We find a way to laugh, even with broken hearts.

One of the enduring messages of Purim, referenced in Megillat Esther that we read on the holiday, is v’nahfuchu — “everything flips” — the impending tragedy is averted, the persecutor is brought to justice, and sadness becomes joy.

This story of our persecution is more than 2,500 years old, in the time of ancient Persia. And it’s 168 days old. 

We’re ready for the story to flip again: For the hostages to be returned home. For the persecutors to be defeated. For our sadness to become joy. 

Please God, very soon.  

Shabbat shalom and happy Purim