With the sickening news from close to home and around the country, of JCC and Jewish day school bomb threats and evacuations, and toppled Jewish gravestones, I have found myself wondering, Where is the collective Jewish response? Is our anguish being heard? Do those in power really care, beyond the polished statement that came too late? And how do we show our opposition beyond “liking” articles on Facebook?
Clearly, anti-Semitic acts are part of a large fabric woven of increased hate crimes, perpetrated by emboldened white supremacists. Examples of outright bigotry are part of our daily diet now. Jews are connected with Muslims whose mosques have been under attack, members of burned black churches, and the families of immigrants being shot and killed.
Several weeks ago, an idea came to me to look to our own tradition for a response, and the Jewish calendar provided one: Ta’anit Esther. Ta’anit Esther commemorates the three-day fast observed by Esther and the Jewish people in ancient Persia, as described in the Purim story. Esther called for the Jewish nation to fast on her behalf when she was preparing to go uninvited to the king, thus risking her life, to expose a plot to destroy her people.
Reconstructing this Jewish tradition, which is now only one day, connects me to other historical times when Jews acted together to survive hatred and threats. And by dedicating this Ta’anit Esther to oppose ALL bigotry, it can offer a chance to connect with other targeted communities reeling from hate crimes today. This will be the first time I observe this fast, from sun up to sun down, joining other family and community members who annually reenact the fast that Esther began before she spoke truth to power long ago.
As I reached out to others about this idea, the most positive embrace came from individual members of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, which is made up of both Jewish and Muslim women around the country who are finding hope in solidarity. Members of my synagogue, Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in West Newton, will join together for a break fast. And a friend of mine, a Christian, Chinese-American, decided to fast as well; I will check in with her tomorrow to hear more about her experience.
I invite you to join in this fast, in whatever way you are able. The main purpose is to take a day to reflect on what is happening in our country, and through the focus that can come with fasting, decide how to best take further action. Here are some possibilities:
- Donate what you would spend on the day’s food to the Anti-Defamation League or the Southern Poverty Law Center
- Write letters to the administration, personalizing your experience of the past few months related to hate crimes
- Build connections with other communities in order to fight racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, xenophobia or homophobia (no shortage of issues!)
- Have a conversation about how to be as brave as Queen Esther, so we are not waiting for one person to save us, or about how to respond to those who deny that anti-Semitism is on the rise and say it doesn’t matter because this is nothing new
Or take some other concrete action that feels meaningful to you, and let others know so they might in turn take an action step forward.
Taanit Esther 2017 can provide a chance to look back to history, educate ourselves about what is really happening today, and envision a future past this scourge of hate. And then enjoy Purim, even if our everyday world does seem upside down.
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