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The Serious Side of Purim (March 2018)

Something was lost last week amidst our celebration of Purim, with our costumes, levity, singing, the noise-making and parodies. On Purim we celebrate the victory of the Jewish community of Shushan over Haman, the narcissistic advisor to the king who hates Mordecai because Mordecai would not bow down to him. As a result, Haman plots to kill all of Mordecai’s people and garners Ahashverosh’ permission to do so by telling the king, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king's laws; therefore it does not profit the king to suffer them.” (Esther 3:8). This little speech of Haman’s is all too familiar to us, as it has been echoed in various forms by Jew-haters throughout our history.

What was lost was the timely news that two responsible and respected national organizations that track hate groups and hate crimes came out with reports about the rise of the number of such groups and anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. over the past year. These two organizations are the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The Boston Globe covered both of these reports last week.

Among the findings of these two reports which are particularly salient (to me, at least):

  • The most significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents were in schools and colleges. According to Robert Trestan, ADL Regional Director, this is where “younger people seem more receptive to an extremist narrative.” Many of us remember the incidents at Westboro High School last year, and one of our congregants who is a high school teacher outside of Westboro has been dealing with an incident in her school.
  • Anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts, which had been fairly consistent since 2013, surged in 2016 and again in 2017. Nationally the number of incidents has also gone up, and for the first time in a decade there was at least one incident reported in all 50 states.
  • The SPLC has consistently attributed the rise in hate rhetoric and hate crimes to President Trump’s rhetoric, tweets, and policies. They point to his retweet of anti-Muslim videos, his softened tone toward the white supremacists who marched in the Charlottesville rally that left one person dead, and his disparaging comments about African nations as “s---hole countries.” They call this “The Trump Effect,” and indeed a good number of perpetrators of hate crimes against minorities these past few years commit their heinous acts in Trump’s name.

These trends must be seen in the context of a growing fear of the “Other”—increasing intolerance of other minorities and immigrants, for example. Most anti-Semites are also racists, intolerant of all groups who do not look, speak and act like they do. Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and immigrants top the list.

Much progress has been made toward greater tolerance and acceptance in our society. But progress is often not linear. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Hopefully that is true, but it is not always true. These days that arc certainly seems to be bending in the wrong direction, and we still have much work to do.

Sun, May 27 2018 13 Sivan 5778