What is the Jewish holiday of Purim? You can read all about it here. Although not a headline holiday on the news, like Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur (after all, public schools wouldn’t cut anyone slack for missing school if it fell on a weekday) it is considered a great holiday by, for, and to the Jews (“Chag gadol la-yihudim”). The celebration of Purim is a Jewish Mardi Gras, marking the subterfuge that allowed Esther and Mordechai to foil Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews.
In a sense, unlike tightly ritualistic holidays throughout the Jewish calendar, Purim provides the latitude to celebrate with creativity. Hence the Purim shpiels and meals and Halloween-like costuming. (Admittedly biased, the annual prize for creativity in that regard goes to my niece Mira Wachstock and her family who adopt a theme that is always a word-play on the family name: The Wach-Stock-Brokers this year.)
Purim is a bit more somber this year because of upticks in the waves of anti-semitism across the world and in particular across the United States. Dave Simon, executive director of the JCC in Albuquerque which has received multiple bomb threats characterized the sentiment well. When asked if he was alarmed by the trend he replied: “Not at all. The cowards who phone in bomb threats don’t scare me … The people who want to do real harm don’t phone ahead.”
That perspective on anti-Semitism is part of the Genius of Judaism. I just finished a new book by that name, authored by Bernard-Henri Levy, an unabashed Francophile who is also a philosopher, journalist, activist, and filmmaker. You can listen to a podcast interview of Levy here.
Now age 68, Levy began answering to a higher authority nearly 40 years ago. The title of the book is borrowed from The Genius of Christianity (subtitled The Spirit and Beauty of the Christian Religion) by Chateuabriand, but Levy stakes his claim to perspectives on religious tolerance and intolerance based on his self-discovery as a Jew sojourning in the world. He is not a Judaic scholar, nor does he pretend to be, but manages to range comfortably from ancient French scholarly heroes typified by Rashi to modern [half-Jew on his mother’s side) literary giants such as Marcel Proust. After the alcohol wears off, give yourself a Purim present by sobering up with Levy’s Genius.