Wednesday, March 16, 2011


With (an early) Ta'anit Esther coming up tomorrow, and what with the horrific events of last Shabbat in the news, I had a memory of my junior year in college, Purim time 1996. This was the height of the Oslo madness and the Muslims, as they tend to do, sensed a weak horse and responded accordingly. (Like their Nazi predecessors and once allies, they also have a perverse way of picking just the "right" date on the Jewish calendar for their atrocities.) Five attacks (almost all within the "Green Line," but haters of all stripes are gonna hate) in less than ten days resulted in sixty deaths. Two on February 25; one on the 26th; one on March 3 (on the same bus line as the second attack), one on the 4th. The last was in Tel Aviv, on Ta'anit Esther itself. I recall that a bunch of the casualties were kids in costume.

Ah, how quickly we forget...

For that fast day's mincha, the entire school met in the main auditorium (not the usual practice). Rabbi Norman Lamm, then-president, spoke briefly about the inability to say anything appropriate when things like this happen, and how we, like all those generations before us, can just say Tehillim and let them speak to us. And so we did, before the tefilla itself. My school, Yeshiva University, like many Jewish institutions, has a major chagiga the night of Purim. (Remarkably, for all its spirit, there's no alcohol involved.) The student organizations who arrange it had a meeting and decided not to cancel. They did decide that there would be no band, and the band they'd hired agreed to back out and not even charge anything. Interestingly, I think it was the most energetic and joyous chagiga I'd ever seen at the school. I guess that's how a people like the Jews has to react. I just told this story to someone who was in Israel then, and I was told that's pretty much what happened here as well.

At the end of the chagiga, R' Mordechai Willig, one of the leading Roshei Yeshiva, took out his guitar, the first musical instrument of the night. He sat down, and we all sat on the floor around him, as he played slowly and meaningfully and we joined in singing. That's not something that leaves you. Here's looking forward, despite all, to a happy and healthy Purim.

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