GRAGGERS FOR THE GROGGY

As a teenager, I recall reading in Mad Magazine, that Hitler was alive and well, running a used Volkswagen dealership in Bayonne, New Jersey. While I’d like to consider myself of a different caliber than the writers at Mad Magazine, I cannot help but speculate what would happen, if Haman, and not Hitler were alive today. No used Volkswagen dealership for Haman, of that I am sure. Haman in my musings, would be  serving in the U.S. Congress, having been elected by the large Iranian constituency in Nassau County, Long Island. And since a leopard does not change his spots, (Jeremiah 13:23), Haman would be voicing his utter contempt for Jews. As an added feature, Haman would also be making known his diatribe against Israel. Oddly enough, I would not be troubled by any of Haman’s comments, however factually incorrect and ludicrous they would be. What  would give me agita though, would be those who would rise up to protect Haman from well-founded criticism and well deserved reprimand.

Given those Jewish voices that were recently heard in the media, however few they have been, protecting a freshman Congresswoman’s ill-advised comments about Jews and Israel, I cannot help but feel, that  those very same Jewish voices that spoke up in defense of the freshman Congresswoman, would have weighed in similarly on Haman’s defense as well. Their comments would in all probability be not all that different than the three paragraphs that follow:

In no way was Congressman Haman anti-Semitic. He was merely pointing out how terribly unhealthy the relationship is between the United States and Israel. If Congressman Haman is guilty of anything, it is that he did not speak out four years ago, when an Israeli Prime Minister had the chutzpah to lecture Congress and tell Congress how it must deal with yet another foreign country. This was Congressman Haman’s beloved Iran that the Israeli Prime Minister was vilifying. Are we Americans so heartless, that we cannot feel Congressman Haman’s pain?

Surely, Congressman Haman possesses neither hatred nor prejudice against Jews or any other people. Surely, Congressman Haman possesses neither hatred or prejudice against Israel or any other country. Otherwise, how could he have been elected to Congress in the first place? I’m not asking that you necessarily agree with Congressman Haman’s well thought comments about American Jews and Israel. I’m asking that as Americans, you accord him honor and respect. After all, isn’t that what freedom of speech is all about in this country?

As, a Jew, I strongly condemn, anti-Semitism, whether it comes from Congressman Haman or from the person behind the counter at the bakery, where I shop. Let us not however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of  the “Shanda Government” in Israel. When Congressman Haman said, “it’s all about the Benjamins baby,” his remarks were taken out of context. What Congressman Haman meant to say, is that American Jews have no right to support an apartheid, fascist, government that treats its Arab citizens worse than the way the Nazis treated our people in World War II. As an American, as a Jew, I implore you!  Let us never deny Congressman Haman, the right of legitimate debate and certainly, the right of free speech.

Congressman Haman apologized to me the other day – not only for the words he used – he apologized to me as a Jew. He did not have to. I admire him for that. I want to tell you, that being a Jew, is to be welcoming to the stranger. And I want to tell you, that Haman is from Iran. Who are we to call him out for anti-Semitism?  Yes, anti-Semitism is a huge problem, but so too is the way we view the Ayatollah, Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei and his government. Shouldn’t we Jews serve as an example to learn from other cultures, rather than criticize them? As Jews who know only too well what it’s like to be a refugee, how dare we treat Congressman Haman, a refugee himself, in such a condescending fashion! It is we who owe Congressman Haman an apology. Let us seek to establish dialogue with Congressman Haman. Let’s work toward peoplehood, peace and good. Let us seek love, understanding and coexistence. Why can’t we all just get along?

As one who takes the message of the Megillah very seriously, I pray that next week’s grating sounds of the graggers, penetrate the auditory nerves of groggy Jews who make it a point to defend those who vilify Jews and the Jewish State, for it is they who ultimately they pose the greatest danger in what they say.

NACHES SHEPPERS

Pooh pooh Purim if you must. Dismiss the likelihood of Jews gaining an upper hand to such an extent that, in the city of Shushan, our people executed 300 of the enemy and then proceeded to annihilate 25,000 Persians throughout the rest of the country, if you are so inclined. Just don’t tell me that there is nothing to be learned from the Book of Esther.

Instead, I ask that the following three realities resonate over the raucousness of centuries of cacophonous graggers:

As Jews, we take great comfort in the fact that we have never handed the enemy complete and total victory. As a people, we have become intoxicated with soundbites such as: “They wanted to exterminate us. They couldn’t. They lost.  We won. Let’s eat.” When it comes to the enemies of our people, the sobering reality is that just as they failed to obliterate us, so too did we fail to obliterate them. As a result, the descendants of Haman are still very much alive. One in particular is Haman’s 21st century grandson, Sayyid Al Hosseini Khamenei, the current Ayatollah. And yes, every time he speaks about launching nuclear missiles aimed at Israel, I cannot help but feel that Haman sheps nachas.

As Jews, we delude ourselves with an attitude of “it can’t happen here” or “it can’t possibly happen to me.” Knowing that his ward possessed such an attitude, Mordechai minced no words when he told Esther: “Do not think that you will be able to escape in the King’s palace any more than the rest of the Jews…you and your father’s house will perish.” Esther wasn’t the first to think that she was safe, even though her people were not. Rarely, if ever, does the enemy draw distinctions when it comes to Jews. Prudent Jews, in my opinion, will always have a valid passport (I have passports from two countries) with at least one thousand dollars cash at hand. If my Israeli cousins living in Dolev (known as occupied territory to the rest of the world as well as to some Jews) own an apartment in Petach Tikvah because they fear that the time may come when they are uprooted by the Israeli government, then what makes us so smug? There are those who believe that all Jews – regardless of where they reside – live in occupied territory. Governments change, times change, and moods of the people change.

As Jews, we make noise. Our parents and grandparents hesitated to speak up, fearing anti-Semitic backlash, but we – their children and grandchildren –  make ourselves heard – often louder than any grogger. We champion causes. We sign petitions. We demonstrate. As praiseworthy as exercising the freedom that is ours as Americans is, it behooves us to prioritize our causes. Are the causes that we take up in any way harmful to us as Jews in the long run? Have we examined these causes to make sure that they are not in any way antithetical to Judaism? Do we realize that social justice should not always be viewed as an absolute, in that social justice is not in any way impervious to the zeitgeist? However noble it is to “hammer out danger,” it’s equally if not more noble to ascertain that danger truly exists, and to fully understand the ramifications of hammering out that danger. It’s quite possible that a more insidious danger lurks to replace the danger that is being hammered out.

The Purim costumes and masks have served their purpose. The graggers have been put away. The megillahs are once again stored for another year. But the realities remain:

Haman is alive and well in the body of Sayyid Al Hosseini Khameinei of Iran.
Governments are as fickle as their leaders. Ahashuerus is alive and well in the body of any number of rulers who stand for nothing but will listen to anyone.

As Jews, we have been silenced for so long that there are those of us who appear to be intoxicated with the need to speak up and be heard. As Jews, let us remind ourselves that the obligation of discernment must supersede demonstrations, petitions, and taking up causes. Let’s make sure Haman sheps no nachas. Let’s do everything in our power so that the naches is shepped by Mordechai.