By Nathan Diament
It is no secret that in the United States, we are living in a time of surging antisemitism. Unwittingly, just ten days before Purim, one group of Jew haters called for a “national day of hate” against Jews. Thank G-d, that Shabbos passed without incident.
But Megilas Esther is a story about ancient antisemitism. Since Chazal included it in the canon of Tanach, we should look for lessons on how to battle today’s enemies.
When a Jew goes out into the world, they know their success depends not just on their own actions but on Hashem’s blessing as well.
Purim demonstrates that perfectly.
The heroine of our story, Esther, did not rely solely on her relationship with the king to reverse the decree. She fasted and prayed for days before approaching him. Not only that, she implored Am Yisrael to join in her actions so that their spiritual efforts would merit her success.
At the same time, she didn’t just sit back, pray, and fast. Esther bravely approached the King with her request — an act that could have dealt her a fate similar to Vashti’s. This brave act ended up exposing Haman’s villainy to the King.
So too, alongside our tefilos, the Orthodox community must work in practical, strategic ways to fight for policies that strengthen and protect our communities. We lobby policymakers and network with coalition partners to ensure our voices are heard and our interests are served.
More than a decade ago, OU Advocacy spearheaded the creation of the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP), which provides our shuls and communities with funding to allocate towards security. Through our collective efforts, NSGP will allocate $305 million in grants to shuls, yeshivos, and other institutions to support their security needs this year.
However, more is needed in the face of the current threat level. We must advocate increased NSGP funding and more comprehensive policies. OU Advocacy has met multiple times with senior White House officials working, under the directive of President Joe Biden, to craft a “national strategy to combat antisemitism.”
Advocacy is a slow and steady process. It’s not always flashy and headline-grabbing, and some projects can take many years to be realized. A key element for success for a small community such as ours is also a key lesson from Purim:
To succeed in advocacy, we must have unity. Esther told Mordechai: “Go and gather all the Jews…” to fast and pray. Men, women, and children came together in Shushan to fast and pray to overturn their fate. And they succeeded.
In a time when our politics couldn’t be more partisan, both in America and in Israel, it is more important than ever for Jews to unite around our similarities. The antisemites don’t care if a Jew is secular, observant, Democratic, or Republican, nor should we.
In the United States, Jews generally enjoy unprecedented freedom to practice our faith as we wish. Federal laws protect everything from shechita (regularly under fire these days in Western Europe) to the ability to erect shuls and eruvin in most locales. Political leaders, from the President and Members of Congress to Governors and Mayors, consistently embrace our community. We are not confronting “Chanukah antisemitism.”
But we are facing the modern-day antisemites of Purim — those who wish to harm us, and we must confront them with the same strategies used by Esther and Mordechai. We must act firmly and decisively in practical ways while also appealing to Hashem for His support. And we must be unified – just as “all the Jews” were in those days of old, which we commemorate today.