Purim is in the air. Rosh Chodesh today! That means there are still two weeks till Purim, but the anticipation of something good, and joyous and unique is already here.
One of the most delightful things about Purim is that the Megillah provides us with such marvelous superheroes.
I sometimes think about what would have happened if I was Mordechai. He made so many unpopular moves. He forbade the Jews to celebrate their own defeat when Achashveirosh threw the party to end all parties when the prophecies about our return to Israel after a 70 year hiatus didn’t seem to come true. The food was as kosher as you would want it to be, since anyone could order their own menu. And no, the people as a whole did not obey Mordechai’s decree. This wasn’t his last unpopular move. Later when Haman demanded that everyone who sees his procession bow to him, Mordechai stood alone erect and defiant.
I don’t think that I would have bowed to Haman if I was in Shushan. He had turned himself into a demigod, and when he commanded that people bow it was more than a reflection off his one dimensional view of life. It was a command to worship him as an idol, and to eliminate any belief in a competitor, such as G-d Himself. I could, however, easily picture myself staying home to avoid the confrontation. I would be safe. I could take shelter in the most dangerous of all clichés’ “I didn’t do anything wrong” when I also didn’t do anything right.
The spirit of Mordechai is still with us.
I saw a fascinating documentary last night. One of our Old Girls, Sara Hemley, married a man who is a nascent film-maker, and they invited me to their home see his latest production. It was a documentary about what it was to live as a Jew in Cuba under Fidel Castro.
The Jewish community of Cuba began with Spanish Jews who emigrated there in order to escape the inquisition. When the Ottoman Empire fell, large numbers of Turkish Jews, mostly from Istanbul found their home on the island. Sara’s husband Shlomo’s mother is a descendant of an Istanbuli Jewish woman, one of two sisters who knew they had to leave Turkey. One sister headed to the States, the other chose Cuba. Later, Ashkenazi Jews also saw Cuba as a City of Refuge from Hitler’s terror, and the population grew till there were 24,000 Jews living there in the thirties, mostly in Havana. Then things changed. In 1959 Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista, the American supported dictator of Cuba. 94% of the Jews left Cuba. The 1,500 or so who remained found themselves in one of the most nightmarish communist regimes in the world. Religion was outlawed, the synagogues confiscated, and all of the melodrama that you might associate with communist Russia was the stuff of day to day life in Cuba.
The minor acts of true heroism are what sustained the Jewish community. The main speaker in the film was a woman who is in her late thirties. “My mother lit one candle Friday nights. I didn’t know why she did it, and if I would have asked, I am sure of one thing. I would not have been given an answer. Children talk too much. When communism crumbled in the 90’s, and the USSR became the FSU, things in Cuba got worse. Castro became one of the last icons of Marx’s creed, and without Russian aid, the economy crumbled. Basic food items were rationed, and the bleak reality of the communist “worker’s paradise” became a nightmare. It was at that point that miraculously Cuba was “discovered” by the Argentinian Jewish community. They sent food packages, visited, and became a beacon of hope for the remaining Jews of Cuba. It was also at this point that our heroine managed to escape first to France, and ultimately to Israel where she lives today, in Raananah. She is married, has children who will grow up as Jews because her mother lit a single candle on Friday nights. It was a risk. Her mother could easily have done the equivalent of being a passive victim with plenty of other people to blame for her being the last Jew in her line.
All of this happened to hundreds of Jews just a half hour’s flight from Miami, without my ever hearing a word about their plight.
The rest of the story was predictable. Communism lost its hold on the island. An Argentinean rabbi came to fill the spiritual vacuum, and Jewish life is in the processes of rebirth. The reason that I am telling you this story is that you make choices that are sometimes not so easy to notice. The choice isn’t always between right and wrong. Sometimes it’s between bowing or staying home, lighting the candle or just having dinner, doing or just fitting in. Be strong! Be a little Mordechai….
Have a great Adar, and take in the simchah of being part of a people who make choices and always have!