(JTA) — Many people think of Purim as a children’s holiday — unadulterated joy, fun and merriment. But I have come to see it as a profound moral commentary on what it means to hold power, and a cautionary tale about what happens when we fail to do our part to break the cycle of violence when the power is in our hands to do it.
I have been living with my husband Rabbi Aryeh Cohen’s interpretation of Megillat Esther — the biblical book read on the holiday, which begins Monday evening at sundown — for more than 29 years now. It initially caught me off guard during a discussion while we were still dating, back in 1993: “You know, of course, that Purim is all about confronting the impossibility of redemption.” (Of course?!) In short, the king’s viceroy Haman decides capriciously that the Jews must be killed, and the king agrees. It is only after the Jewish heroine Esther marries the king and convinces him that her people do not deserve to be killed does he change the decree, and the Jews are saved. Redemption!
This happy ending is accompanied by another decree, however, in which the Jews are given permission to slaughter those who were going to slaughter them. To authorize this violent self-defense, the king takes the royal ring, a symbol of his authority, from the corpse of Haman and gives it to Esther’s Jewish cousin, Mordecai.
Writes Aryeh: “The question we are left with is this: In the next scene, the scene after the end of the megillah, who will get the ring then? … We suspect that another Haman will get the ring, then another Mordecai, forever.”
Visions of this unredeemed world were on view in recent days as we watched the multi-directional, free-flowing hate catching fire in America, in Israel and in the West Bank. These weeks leading up to Purim have felt all too much like the horrifying parts of the megillah: the reality of Jewish vulnerability in the face of mercurial antisemitism at its beginning; the wielding of Jewish power in a revenge fantasy at its end.
For me, this megillah started two weeks ago when two Jewish men — Persian, like Mordecai — were shot within a block or two of my Los Angeles house simply because they were Jewish men. The shooter had fallen into a conspiracy rabbit hole and believed that Jews had manufactured and released the COVID-19 virus in an attempt to target Asians. Thank God, both men will recover, and I hope that the shooter can recover from his own misguided hate, too. When politicians, media and others play with rhetorical fire and boost conspiracy theories, it lights the torches of vulnerable people, and we all get burned.
Then last week, I watched through waves of nausea as the end of the megillah was reflected in the West Bank, following the killings of Israeli brothers Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, by a Palestinian shooter. There, Jewish acolytes of Baruch Goldstein, who slaughtered 29 praying Palestinians 29 years ago on Purim, took a break from marauding in the Palestinian village of Huwara to offer their evening prayers. In the video that was circulating, the settlers were reciting the words of Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, sometime before or after a resident of nearby Zu’tara, Sameh Aqtash, was shot and killed. They were not reciting the Kaddish for him. Few participants in the pogrom have faced consequences. But the Israeli army has attacked Israelis protesting it.
There were other horrors in between, both here and there — and more since. Innocent Palestinians were killed and injured during military raids in the West Bank. A recent college graduate, the dual American-Israeli citizen Elan Ganeles, was shot to death as he headed to a friend’s wedding in Jerusalem.
And here in the United States, a “Day of Hate” called by far-right antisemitic group put Jews on alert throughout a recent Shabbat.
For these past weeks and months, it has felt like Jews are being squeezed between our vulnerability as Jews here in the United States and Israel and the contortion of Jewish power in Israel — quite literally in the case of the militant Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s minister of national security, whose party is known as Otzma Yehudit, or Jewish Power.
On the eve of Purim we need to think about what it means to change the story — for everyone.
In the United States, that means building strong and deep relationships that keep us all safe. California state assembly member Isaac Bryan offered a model at a town hall following the shootings here, when he said that Black and Jewish solidarity looks like “thriving, safe, and healthy communities from Pico-Robertson to Leimert Park.” Bryan names the most identifiable Jewish and Black neighborhoods in Los Angeles to remind us that all Angelenos’ fates are connected. That if we show up for one another and ensure one another’s physical and economic safety and well-being, the city becomes a better place for all of us.
In Israel, it means recognizing that the Israeli government and those that have empowered it are currently “holding the ring” of power. If they continue to act with unrestrained power to terrorize and dispossess Palestinians, or simply allow settlers to do this with no repercussions, they fail to heed the words of Isaiah: “And when you lift up your hands, I will turn My eyes away from you; Though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with crime” (1:15).
When the Israeli nonprofits Tag Meir and Standing Together organized solidarity trips to Huwara last week, they were taking Isaiah’s admonition deeply to heart, refusing to turn their eyes and hearts away, walking toward the residents of Huwara and raising their voices against the settlers’ hate and violence. Tag Meir was founded to counteract settler “price tag” attacks, and shows up for both Palestinian and Israeli families who have been impacted by violence. Standing Together is a growing group of Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel who organize for change. Both are working to change the end of the megillah in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
In response to identity-based violent rhetoric, we must humanize those whom others would pit against us, while humanizing our own people, as well. There are many organizations that create spaces in which we can build relationships that create a variety of pathways for us to act on one another’s behalf, ensuring safety and dignity for one another. In solidarity, we can write a new ending to our megillah.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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