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Showing posts with label esther. Show all posts
Showing posts with label esther. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Purim and the Partisans: A Jewish Tale of Defiance

The celebration of Purim is one of victory over an oppressor, with themes that echo throughout countless stories of the Jewish partisans during the Holocaust, including hidden identities, outwitting enemies, recruiting allies, providing food for those in need, confronting antisemitism and, of course, armed resistance.



Purim celebration held by the Beitar Zionist movement in Wlodzimierz, Poland in 1937. Thousands of Beitar members reportedly formed or joined partisans groups and participated in the in the Warsaw, Vilna, and Bialystok ghetto revolts. Photo source: USHMM.

At the climax of the Purim story, Queen Esther (whose name can mean "hidden") reveals her Jewish identity in order save her people. At significant risk to her own safety, Esther confronts her husband, King Ahasuerus, and convinces him to thwart Haman's order to exterminate the Jews of Persia. The king grants Esther and her cousin Mordecai ("warrior") the authority to issue a counter-order, allowing the Jews to take up arms against their attackers.

And he wrote in the king Ahasuerus' name, and sealed it with the king's ring, and sent letters … wherein the king granted the Jews, which were in every city, to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them… (Esther 8:10-11)

Through a combination of intellectual planning and physical force, the Jewish people defeat Haman's antisemitic minions, and live to celebrate their victory:

The Jews gathered themselves together in their cities throughout all the provinces of the King Ahasuerus, to lay hand on such as sought their hurt: and no man could withstand them; for the fear of them fell upon all people. And all the rulers of the provinces, and the lieutenants, and the deputies, and officers of the king, helped the Jews; because the fear of Mordecai fell upon them. (9:2-3)
…and the month [in which the Jews would have been annihilated] was turned for them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day: that they should make them days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor. (9:22)

As with the heroes of Purim, Jewish partisans saved thousands of lives through a combination of intellect, arms, the will to create a better future… and a great deal of mazal (luck). While Mordecai and Esther are heroic figures in Jewish lore, the day is truly won by the largely unsung Jews of Persia who united to rebel against their murderous assailants. As with the Jews of Persia, the great majority of the Jews who struggled against Nazi forces – both partisans and the millions more who engaged in unarmed resistance – remain nameless heroes, hidden in the shadows of our history.



Purim celebration in 1939. All but one person in this photograph - Jewish partisan Norman Salsitz - were murdered by the Nazis.

Today, the world continues to face oppressors who are willing to use brutal violence to attain their goals. The story of Purim, and the history of Holocaust resistance, teach us that the key to defeating injustice is using our minds, our bodies and our spirits to act justly to defend ourselves and others from tyranny, bigotry, and violence.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Queen Esther, our Heroine of Purim, Foreshadows Jewish Partisan Experience

The dramatic story of Purim, filled with deception, betrayal, and murder, as well as a beautiful woman’s heroism and the implausible victory of the Jewish people against all odds, provides a timely and unique perspective on the Jewish partisan experience of modern history.

Applying the lens of the Purim story to contextualize the Jewish partisans deepens our overall understanding of Jewish history. The King’s initial attraction to Esther allowed her to use her beauty as a shield to hide behind. When, after becoming Queen, she decides to reveal her Jewish identity, her bravery in undeniable. “I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16) Keeping Esther’s bravery in mind, it is easy to draw a parallel to the incredibly courageous acts of the partisans.

Like Esther, many Jewish partisans during World War II were in life or death situations, which forced them to hide their identity as a Jew. For first person testimony from partisans which invokes the Purim story, spend some time on Norman Salsitz’ bio on the JPEF website which describes his experience hiding his identity. You might also be interested in the clip from Eta Wrobel called “Eta’s beautiful hair saves her life” which can be found here