By: Fanya DoninRaje Manhattan 2018-2019
The Jewish holiday of Purim is quickly approaching, and I honestly couldn’t be more excited. We commemorate how the Jewish nation was saved from the wicked Haman who had planned to kill us all. And growing up, I always found the best part of the story to be that the hero was a woman, Esther. It made me feel empowered, like maybe I too could one day change the world.
I don’t know if you could tell by now, but it’s one of my favorite holidays. Not just because of the food, and the costumes, but because of the profound implications this holiday has on my life as a Jew of Russian-speaking descent. I mean the truth is, I shouldn’t even be here right now. The very fact that I’m alive and writing this down is a miracle.
You know, most Russian Jews keep Yom Kippur. But here’s the thing: Yom Kippur is an intense and solemn holiday. And it’s ironic, because really the holiday that Russian Jews should be celebrating is Purim.
Many people don’t know this, but after World War Two, after the evil monstrosities of the Holocaust, Soviet Jews still weren’t safe. Stalin had plans to exterminate the estimated three million Jews living in the Soviet Union. Then, on Purim of 1953, he suddenly had a stroke and died shortly after. We were saved. What a miracle!
But back to Yom Kippur. It’s actually a shorter name for Yom HaKippurim, “A Day of Atonements.” In Hebrew, it sounds identical to the words, “A Day Like Purim.” At face value, these holidays couldn’t be more different. But on an important level, they are strikingly similar. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik once said, “Perhaps the feature common to both Purim and Yom Kippur is that aspect of Purim which is a call for Divine compassion and intercession, a mood of petition arising out of great distress.” It has deep and meaningful implications about who Jews fundamentally are, and who we have the potential to be. If Yom Kippur is about being as honest as you possibly can with yourself about who you are right now, then Purim is the opposite. We have the power to become someone else, someone better, maybe even who we’re really meant to be. When the lights turn on, and the costume comes off, who will you choose to become? Life is not about finding your path; it’s about creating one. And Purim gives us the chance to do just that.
We live in unsettling and troubling times. In many places around the world, antisemitism looms larger than ever before. And as Purim draws ever closer, we are entering a time in which the Hamans of our generation may falter and the Jewish redemption can take place. I think that there’s something to be said about the potentiality of changing destinies.
Many Russian Jews are somewhat disenfranchised, their culture and heritage quite literally beaten out of them by an oppressive regime. So this Purim, I’m praying for a shift in our fate, a change in our destiny. My greatest hope for Russian Jews (in America and elsewhere) is that one day, we won’t be “Yom Kippur Jews”, God-fearing and serious on only a few days a year. Rather, we will be “Purim Jews,” finding joy and happiness from Judaism every single day.
In all likelihood, this message will fall on deaf ears. After all, this is just one post on Facebook. But if there’s one thing that Purim teaches us, it’s that miracles can and do happen. And that sometimes, one Jew can change the fate of many.