By Mark Sokoll
Last weekend the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston had the honor of hosting a swim-a-thon to benefit Haiti earthquake relief efforts. Forty five members of the Leventhal-Sidman JCC Karishim swim team, ages 7-14, came together to swim a whopping 59 miles in one hour, and donated the proceeds from their swim to the CJP Haiti Relief Fund.
Generous gestures to help the people of Haiti abound, and swim-a-thons themselves are not particularly newsworthy. What makes this project especially important to us at the JCC, and to the parents of the participants, is that the entire project was initiated, planned, and carried off by the swimmers themselves. Three girls, ages 10, 11, and 12, intent on making a difference, put their considerable leadership talents together, applied the resources available to them, and simply did it.
Which brings us to the subject of this weekend’s holiday, Purim. A relatively minor festival in today’s Jewish practice (except, of course, for those who take pleasure in debating the merits of prunes, apricots, poppy seeds and other hamantaschen fillings), Purim actually commemorates a significant milestone in Jewish history. In Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther, we read about Haman’s plot to annihilate the Jews of the Persian Empire, and of the efforts of Mordecai and his niece, Esther, to save them.
Who were Esther and Mordecai, after all? She was an orphan child; he, the relative who adopted and raised her. We know relatively little about Mordecai before he rises to a place of rank in the royal court and is thus positioned to learn about Haman’s infamous plot. And what resources does he bring to bear on this potential catastrophe? His beloved niece, a very young woman who captivates the king and, with Mordecai’s support, convinces him to cancel the evil decree.
Throughout history, we have created opportunities to celebrate the occasions when the Jews are saved by their own. These are extremely important milestones for the widest variety of reasons. One reason I may suggest is that we have survived to model and apply to the world a set of values that are both Jewish and universal. The Karishim swimmers have done exactly that. Like Mordecai and Esther, they looked about them, understood danger, recognized opportunity, and took on the task of healing the world. Their fundamental respect for human life inspired and galvanized them; their charitable natures put them on a path.
We have much to be proud of, and thankful for. Chag Sameach!
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