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Purim Teaches Us How to Respond to Anti-Semitism

Purim Teaches Us How to Respond to Anti-Semitism

Bond in unity and stand up as proud Jews.


As anti-Semitic incidents rise at an alarming rate, I am listening carefully to the message of Purim.

The Jewish people were frightened, faced with threat of annihilation. Haman’s hatred hung over the nation like a dark cloud. King Achashverosh told Haman “to do with as you see fit.” Letters were sent with permission to “destroy, to slay, and to exterminate all the Jews, from young to old, children and women…”

In such dire circumstances who could keep hope alive?

My mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, of blessed memory, described being deported from her home in Szeged, Hungary. She was a little girl when the Nazis awakened her from her sleep. My grandparents were given just a few moments to get ready and then they were thrown into the night. German shepherd dogs were barking. There was shouting and screaming. Terrified, my mother stood in the street holding in her arms her favorite doll for dear life, the only thing she was able to take with her.

The neighbors came and watched silently, gawking.

“You are a dirty Jew. Where you are going you won’t need any toys.”

My mother noticed her friend, Marta, the daughter of the non-Jewish caretaker of the synagogue. The two girls had always played together. Marta was standing there with her father. She approached my mother and for a moment my mother thought that at least this little friend was coming to say goodbye.

As Marta came close, she grabbed the doll.

My mother began to cry. “This doll is mine! Give me back my doll!”

“My father said I could take whatever I want. You can’t keep anything.”

Father and daughter looked at her, laughing. Then Marta’s father sneered, “You are a dirty Jew. And you need to learn the facts of life. Where you are going you won’t need any toys.”

He spat on the ground.

“But you don’t have to worry,” he added. “Marta will take care of all your things.”

My mother was deported to Bergen-Belsen.

How many times was the world ready to bid farewell to the Jews? How often have they vowed to throw us into the sea, to terrorize us, delegitimize our very breath and destroy our children?

My mother’s transport was halted in Linz. They were loaded off the cattle cars. Heads were shaved. Amidst the sobbing, my mother found herself herded into a shower. They later realized this was also a gas chamber. My mother felt as if life had come to an end. She no longer felt as if she was a human being. She could not bear to glance at her beautiful mother who was shorn of all her grace and dignity.

At that moment of suffocating darkness, something incredible occurred.

My mother put her hand into her pocket and discovered a crumpled piece of paper inside. She pulled it out and carefully unfolded its fragile ends. It was a page from a prayer book. My grandfather had secretly placed the holy paper inside as a message to his little girl. The words of the Shema filled my mother’s heart with hope. The message was clear: No matter what happens, no matter where life takes you, know that you never walk alone. My dear child you are part of the Jewish people. God is watching over you; never lose your faith.

The words of the Shema filled my mother’s heart with hope. No matter what happens, you never walk alone.

There are times we search for God’s hand and feel despair. We long for clear vision. We cannot understand what is happening. It feels as if the presence of God is concealed. But we must know that beneath all the confusion there is a Divine plan. God is guiding us. We will survive.

This is the message of Purim.

It is Queen Esther, herself, who calls out to us until today.

Esther is alluded to in the Torah with the Hebrew expression “hastir astir”- I, God, will hide My face. There are times of darkness when we feel that God’s face is hidden. In the Book of Esther, God’s name does not appear. We may not always see or be cognizant of God’s hand in our life, but we need to know that His presence is guiding us, to pierce the veil of nature and search for the light behind the clouds.

That terrible night when my mother was woken from her bed and cast off for deportation, Marta and her father likely believed that they were done with the Jews. The Nazis could never have fathomed that one day the Jewish people would walk through the streets of Jerusalem and wash the stones of the Western Wall with our tears.

That page of the Shema sustained not only my mother, but an entire generation of Jews. We cannot afford to give up on ourselves.

We are still here, continuing to tell our unique story.

Let us never give up hope. Instead, let us embrace the words of Queen In times of trouble, Queen Esther told us what we must do. She asked that we bond in unity, stop hurting one another, and join together in prayer. This is the time strengthen your Jewish pride.

As we contemplate the rising anti-Semitism that is spreading throughout the world, the hatred of the BDS movement and the threats to our land, we must take a moment to think. We have faced cruel enemies before. We have suffered through pogroms, inquisitions, crusades, Holocaust and murderous terror attacks. But we are still here, continuing to tell our unique story.

Let us never give up hope. Instead, let us embrace the words of Queen Esther: “Go, gather all the Jews.” Become one. Reach out to someone with kindness. Make a difference in the life of another, even if it’s just through a good word or a bright smile. Say a prayer and stand up for the Jewish people.

Together we can turn sorrow to gladness and darkness to light.

Click here for more inspiring Purim articles.

March 4, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 15

(12) Bracha, February 27, 2018 4:00 PM

Thank you for this article. This is the true message of Purim, and your mother’s story is a heartwrenching reminder of everything our nation has gone through (I actually just started reading her book “life is a test” again last week- it’s one of my favorite books). Like you said, the thing that matters most is loving and caring for one another. Happy Purim!

(11) Anonymous, March 26, 2017 1:51 AM

Shalom to you

Shalom dear,
I read all books of respected rebetzin Esther Jungris
(Shalom to her soul) and cried along reading each page.
I felt very sad to hear that very sadly the respected rebetzin
that I loved and respected her, passed away.
I hope and pray shalom and consolations to her children.
Shalom to you

(10) John T Hughes, March 12, 2017 6:48 PM

Hi Slovie thank you for wishing me well. What a powerful message you delivered from this article. As a non Jew my heart is full of love and compassion for all the suffering the Jews endured and still do to this day. No human being should have to go through this kind of suffering. Thank you for enlightening me . We should all remember and do whatever can be done to prevent anything like this from happening. Have a Happy Purim

(9) Anonymous, March 9, 2017 7:58 AM

Also important: How not to respond to anti-Semitism

With all due respects, the author is much to be thanked for omitting the ultimate response to anti-Semitism in the Book of Esther (9:5): "And the Jews struck at all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, slaughtering and annihilating; they treated their enemies as they pleased." The dead numbered 800 in Shushan (9:6) and 75,000 "in the king's provinces" (9:15).

To respond in self-defense against a rodef/murderous pursuer is of course justified by the Torah, but to misrepresent Megillas Esther as support for revenge killing in such numbers would be to utterly pervert the lessons of Purim. In fact the absence of Gd in the megillah -- a hester penim/hiding of the Divine face -- may well reflect at least in part a Divine withholding of sanction for mass vengeance.

Eliyahu, March 13, 2017 3:54 PM

With all due respect, I fear that you miss the deeper message

The entire point of G-d’s hiddenness in the book is that He is imbues it to its very depths and that its our job to find Him in all of it. Per the Vilna Gaon, the reason that every word of the narrative must be heard to fulfill the requirement of “proclaiming the miracle” (corresponding to lighting the Chanukah menorah--eight-branched Chanukiah), is that every word of the Megillat Esther proclaims it (he provides much commentary to help prove this).

The ones killed had no personal problem with murdering men, women and children (and those kind to the cruel will eventually be cruel to the kind)—but in actual spiritual depth, they represented the deepest evil of ego itself. This evil could exist in an externally loyal and friendly caretaker of long personal relationship, or be imbued hopelessly into a young child who grabs someone’s last, precious possession in total cruelty. It is the evil, the perverse ultimate spiritual selfishness, that actually prefers the other’s harm to its own gain—it is disintegration, death, and chaos—the essence of pure evil itself.

Understand that the Jews, due to their historic closeness with the Upper Light, and who are responsible to be a conduit for it to the nations, are judged far more strictly in this matter, ergo the near catastrophe of Persia and the actual modern one of Germany, and the varying degrees of suffering under anti-Semitism throughout our history. The sharper the tools you have, the less of a mistake it takes for you to get cut. G-d ultimately spared Rebbitzen Jungreis perhaps for her important future mission, but nonetheless, it was she and her family, and not Marta and her father, that G-d sent to a death camp.

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