לֹא־הִגִּ֣ידָה אֶסְתֵּ֔ר אֶת־עַמָּ֖הּ וְאֶת־מֽוֹלַדְתָּ֑הּ כִּ֧י מָרְדֳּכַ֛י צִוָּ֥ה עָלֶ֖יהָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־תַגִּֽיד׃
Esther did not reveal her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had told her not to reveal it.
When I was an undergraduate at Indiana University, I worked at Congregation Beth Shalom as a Youth Advisor. It was a terrific job, and one of my responsibilities involved helping organize the yearly Purim Carnival. I arranged for games (imagine 8-12 year olds tossing pies at their favorite Sunday School teachers), a costume contest (I dressed up as Emmet from The Lego Movie), ate hamantaschen, and celebrated the great Queen Esther and how she saved the Jewish people.
What we did not talk about, however, was the hard stuff. Ahasuerus’ need to control the women around him, the two men he executed as a result of Queen Esther informing him of their plot against the king, the hanging of Haman and his sons, or the killing of over 75,000 ‘enemies’ carried out by the Jews.
These violent elements of the story are uncomfortable and challenge the fun image of Purim, the holiday meant to teach our kids how enjoyable the synagogue can be. Instead, we hide them underneath the fun, the same way Esther hid her Jewish identity.
These dueling narratives — the fun victory and the discomforting violence — are simultaneous and inextricable pieces of the Megillah’s narrative. They reflect the way I was brought up to approach our community’s narrative of Israel. Israel meant falafel and movies, the rebirth of the Hebrew language and the miracle of a state in our ancestral homeland — a homeland we have fought for and must continue to defend.
We did not discuss what lay hidden underneath.
This year, as part of NIF’s Elissa Froman Fellowship, I had the privilege to learn about the parts of Israel some would rather leave hidden. I met with activists in the Negev from Atid Bamidbar working to build and staff a school for the underprivileged Bedouin community. I learned from visionaries fighting to rebuild the political left through creative organizing, such as Mehazkim, which uses social media to amplify stories and ideas of the Israeli left.
Organizations like these are the embodiment of one of the lessons of Purim for me: that the truth cannot remain hidden; that the difficulty of the story that makes us uncomfortable is no reason to hide it, but on the contrary, a reason to embrace it in its full, complex reality.
It is hard to hear about pain and violence being enacted upon others in the name of Judaism. While we may gloss over uncomfortable truths around Purim time, leaving the uncomfortable and challenging truths of Israel hidden only allows real harm to continue.
Just as we celebrate the choice Esther made to not remain hidden so she could save others, we too have the ability to improve Israeli society. We must stop hiding behind the fun and acknowledge violence, pain, and the harsh realities of the occupation.
Fortunately, there are organizations like the New Israel Fund working to shine a light on these truths, working toward an Israel that does not hide. Just as the Purim story is complex, full of both victory and violence, so too is Israel.
Next week, as I celebrate living openly as a Jew, I hold with me both the beauty and the miracle of living in Israel at this time and my desire to support the work to bring freedom to all who live here. I encourage all of us to think about how to celebrate the positive that is, the positive that can be, and to not hide from the evil and the violence that continue to this day.