Purim Today – 2012

Esther ScrollToday I attended the CIJR Colloquium on the Iranian question. Three professors, Prof. Frederick Krantz, Chair (Concordia University), Prof. Harold Waller (McGill University),
and Prof. Norrin Ripsman (Concordia University) all spoke on the topic of Syria, Egypt and the “Arab Spring”: Israel’s Security Situation, following an introduction by  Rabbi Yonah Rosner.

The Rabbi spoke using the drama of the Purim story as a backdrop. (This week will host the Jewish celebration of Purim, March 7th & 8th). Yesterday, in synagogues, in Israel and all over the world, Jews participated in Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath before Purim which each year reminds us of the injunction “to remember and not to forget” those who have attacked our innocents in the past, (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) or the dangers that these kinds of enemies pose at any time. In my own synagogue Rabbi Aigin also spoke about these issues.

Iran has made open and clear threats to annihilate the Jewish people, to wipe Israel off the map. Both Rabbis reminded us of Queen Esther’s injunction, and the importance of Jewish unity in the face of these kinds of threats. Our history reminds us that threats are serious. And as Prof. Krantz (a historian), pointed out, the only difference between pre Holocaust times and post Holocuast times is that the Jewish people now have a state, the independent State of Israel, and a well trained army and armaments to address these kinds of threats.

However, we are also reminded that the Book of Esther, never mentions G-d, but only the acts and foibles of men and women, some ordinary and some in authority, Kings and Ministers. Tomorrow President Obama addresses AIPAC, (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) the annual gathering of heads of American Jewish institutions and ordinary folk. We will all have to judge, is Obama Ahashverosh – the weak and easily influenced vacillating King described in the Purim Story who first has his Queen Vashti killed for insubordination, i.e. refusing to appear before his party in the nude, and then gives Haman permission to murder all Jews in his Kingdom on a certain day in spring, the day we celebrate as Purim, in exchange for ten thousand ducats. – not a very wise or compassionate King, although in the end he sees the error of his ways. But rulers are not always wise or compassionate. This we see clearly in our our own time. Most of them seem to be focused clearly on acquiring wealth and retaining power at any cost.

Prof Krantz reminded us of the heavy responsibility that Prime Minister Netanyahu now carries on his shoulders, the responsibility of guarding over six million Jews in Israel and the fate of their brethren in the Diaspora as well. For our fates have and always will be linked. Esther in the Purim story reminds us that if Jews have any hope for redemption they must be united, especially in times of crisis.

The Purim scroll is called the Megillah, and it is a tradition to have fun and to put on satirical plays on Purim, they are called Purimshpiels in Yiddish. Another Yiddish expression is “man tracht und G-t lacht.”  Man works and G-d laughs or the English idiomatic equivalent is “Man proposes G-d disposes”.

This article: Remember: The Answer to Terrorism has a deep message regarding how to respond in the face of threats.

Happy Purim to all.

Bullying and Genocide

After writing about my recent experience of a first hand incidence of bullying in one of our Montreal schools I recalled the first time I had heard about the connection between bullying and genocide. In the summer of 2009, I had covered a conference ‘Mieux connaître pour mieux être l’humanité’. A five day training program for teachers wanting to teach about the complex subject of genocide that was offered by ICESG in Ottawa.

What about Barbara Colorosa? Most of us know about her for her books on educating children but did you know that this mother, teacher and former nun was asked to speak at a university in Rwanda on bullying (“Extraordinary Evil: A Short History of Genocide”, is her latest book)

She explains that as there are are three actors in any bullying episode, the bully, the target and the bystanders, there are also generally the same three actors in the phenomenon of “genocide”: one, the the organizers and their followers ie. the ringleaders and their active joiner/participants; two, the targets, (victims) and three the bystanders.

I found her description of the “bystanders” most interesting. She explains that among the bystanders there are also three categories: one, the “henchmen”, i.e. the active supporters, two, the passive supporters, people who are afraid to step in, and three, those who oppose the genocidal action, i.e. people who actually do step in to defend the victims and oppose the bully.

Since the Holocaust, the World War II Nazi genocide of Jews, Gypsies, and anyone who opposed the Nazi authorities, there have been many studies on both bullying and genocide. The bullying studies have described how easy it is for even one person to stand up to the bully and prevent harm by influencing bystanders to oppose the bully. When there is noone to stand up, the bully gets away with it and the bystanders become collaborators.

Interestingly, Barabara Colorosa who dissected three genocides, the Armenian, Rwandan and Nazi genocides, those in each country who did step in to oppose the genocidal actors were often outsiders. Colorosa shares a story about an elderly Rwandan woman who was an outsider (she had never converted to the dominant religion of Christianity) who saved Tutsi babies who were brought to her by their mothers. She was able to not go along with the ideology that demonized even Tutsi babies. A perpetrator said to her “Is that a Tutsi baby?” and she said “No, that’s a baby and I am a mother.”

There are two threads here that I found fascinating: One, most of us are not aware of the planning and execution that goes into genocidal activities by governments and those in authority. (Often it seems as though these “genocides” happen and the “world” is helpless but actually great planning and effort over long periods of time goes into the execution of each genocide reported here. These acts don’t just happen as we are lead to believe via media reporting.

Two, is the participation of ordinary individuals and citizens like you and me. We too have our roles to play. Especially in the twenty-first century global village.

What are your thoughts on this very complex and difficult subject?