Purim holds many lessons for these troubled times


Purim, which this year will be celebrated on March 10, with the megillah reading the evening before, is a festive holiday. But underneath its celebratory aspects lurks an egregious example of hatred and its consequences – one that is as relevant in the 21st century as it was when the events took place in the 4th century B.C.E.

Hatred for the sake of hating was certainly no stranger in biblical times, but Purim’s backstory continues to show just how irrational and damaging rampant and arbitrary animosity can be.

The holiday’s central tale, as related in the megillah, revolves around Queen Esther, the Jewish wife of Persian ruler King Ahasuerus, telling her husband that his prime minister, Haman, had organized a plot to exterminate the Jews on the 13th day of Adar. (Haman picked that day by lottery, and that’s how Purim got its name – the Persian word for “lots” is “pur.”)

Thankfully, Purim has a happy ending, one that you’re probably quite familiar with, whether you’re a Hebrew School student or a young-at-heart lover of hamantaschen. Esther, as we know, convinced the king to allow the Jews in Persia to defend themselves, and the king later named Esther’s cousin Mordechai his new prime minister and ordered the hanging of Haman, Purim’s super-villain.

All of that added up to a reprieve for Persia’s Jews – but, unfortunately, humanity hasn’t yet learned that hatred doesn’t pay. Anti-Semitism, for instance, is dramatically on the rise in the United States, and across the world. In addition, it’s no secret that people – especially in this social media era, when it’s easy to hide behind anonymity – are more emboldened than ever to spout unbridled hatred.

And it’s not just hatred of Jews, either; immigrants and many minorities have been increasingly targeted, and lately, reports, both from the region and worldwide, indicate that the unfortunate outbreak of the coronavirus in China has sparked a new wave of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment.

All of that is terribly upsetting, but while the possibility of eradicating hatred seems bleak, there are a few things that we as individuals can do to try to counter the hatred currently dominating our national conversation.

None of these suggestions is a panacea for what ails us as a society, but they can make our daily existence a little more bearable.

We can start by trying to bring back what has become an oxymoron these days: common courtesy. To try to reach that goal, we can strive to be better human beings by:

   Not judging people by who we think they are, but instead trying to get to know who they really are. Instead of calling all members of one political viewpoint, party, religion or ethnicity names designed to demonize them, we should be attempting to establish a dialogue.

           Educating people by talking about yourself and your traditions. Years ago, while writing a column for a daily newspaper, I’d write about Passover and Hanukkah, for example, in an attempt to let people know the origins and meaning of these holidays.

            Holding doors for people who are behind you. Once upon a time, this simple courtesy was taken for granted, but it hasn’t been a regular practice for a long while.

            Volunteering for community endeavors such as spring cleanups in your town or city, or perhaps pitching in at food pantries, schools or nonprofits. Giving of yourself will not only make you feel better about yourself and others, but it will also give you a chance to open up to strangers.

            Learning to talk sports. Although not everyone is a sports fan, I’ve always loved the idea of sports giving you an excuse to chat up a stranger, something I do regularly at Pawtucket and Boston Red Sox games.

A reader and I recently had an email chat that illustrates the benefit of talking sports. Rick Sasse, of Providence, emailed me for the first time in response to my February column about Tom Brady and aging athletes in general.

He wrote, in part, “Good evening. You are right about this. Your example of Willie Mays is always the first example I think of. Then there was Johnny U [Baltimore Colts legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas] finishing up in San Diego. It makes you almost feel sorry that they are the last to realize it is over.”

I responded by thanking him for his comments, and adding: “Enjoy spring training, which I am determined to enjoy despite the Mookie [Betts] trade, salary dumping, cheating allegations [in professional baseball], etc.”

Rick continued our email conversation by writing back:

“I have had the best of both worlds over the last 24 years living in Providence as a life-long Yankee fan, and also watching pretty good Red Sox teams. My mother-in-law lived with us here and in Cooperstown, New York. [She was] a big Red Sox fan from Connecticut … what a fantastic way to live out her final 16 years here, catching every Red Sox game. It’s a wonderful game in spite of your stated laundry list above.”

Thank you, Rick, for your kind comments – and for showing that if a lifelong Red Sox fan can find common ground with a lifelong Yankees fan, then there’s at least a smidgen of hope for humanity.

LARRY KESSLER (larrythek65@gmail.com) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro who has been married for 31-plus years to a lifelong Yankees fan.