This past Saturday and Sunday we celebrated Purim, and then on Monday, we faced the beginning of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). For those unfamiliar with IAW, this is an annual, weeklong, anti-Israel hate-fest that started in 2005 at University of Toronto and now takes place in 40 locations around the world.
Here in Toronto, U of T’s main campus is in the downtown core, so for many of us, there is the feeling each year at this time that all of Toronto has been taken over by IAW.
When I first noticed that there would be a convergence this year between IAW and Purim, I found this quite thought-provoking.
Purim, of course, is a holiday about the vagaries of history and the remarkable capacity of our people to survive in an unpredictable and hate-filled world. The proximity of IAW to Purim reminds us with vividness and immediacy that, despite all the differences between ancient Persia and present-day Canada, we still live in a world where anti-Semitism exists and we have enemies who seek to destroy us.
Even without Purim adjoining it, IAW is an intensely uncomfortable time for many Jews, and an agonizing one for those of us who love Israel. For me (an Israeli citizen and a passionate left-wing Zionist), this weeklong attack on Israel is a weeklong attack on me. I might feel otherwise if IAW were a week of honest, balanced critique of Israel, but this is not the case.
IAW uses the false analogy between Israel and apartheid South Africa to try and delegitimize, and ultimately destroy, the State of Israel. It thus becomes a true analogy to Haman.
So what can we do during this difficult week to respond to the old-new hatred of IAW? I found myself talking about this last week at U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, after screening a film I made about my research on Toronto Jewish girls and their experiences of anti-Semitism. Afterwards, during the discussion, one woman said she is afraid to wear a pendant with a Jewish star on it in public because of the response she might get. I’d heard this kind of statement dozens of times before when conducting a national study with Jewish women from across Canada, and as I told this young woman, I understand her reaction. It is, after all, reality-based, because we live in an anti-Semitic time.
That said, one of the great lessons of Purim is that, given the choice between flight and fight, fighting is the better option.
Esther, with Mordechai’s encouragement, fought back against Haman, and that’s part of why we’re here today. Furthermore, the strategies Esther used to defeat Haman were unorthodox and creative, and we must employ this same creativity in response to our enemies today.
To offer just one example: last week, coming out of a movie in a downtown theatre, I caught sight of a table with all sorts of flyers on it, and sure enough, along with all the others, was a pile of bookmarks advertising IAW. I was just starting to grumble to myself, when someone on the other side of the room called my name, so I turned away from the table to wave to her and say hi. Moments later, I turned back to the table, and to my astonishment, saw that all the IAW bookmarks were gone. There had been only one other person with me near that table – a woman whose distinctly patterned bright jacket I had happened to notice. Now I recognized her by the back of this jacket – this woman was striding quickly out of the theatre.
I don’t know this woman and I’ll never know her exact motive for scooping up all those bookmarks. But I do know the intense relief and elation that flooded me, knowing that at least at that theatre, none of those lying bookmarks would reach the dozens of innocent Torontonians going to the movies that evening.
I also found this incident startling, because it closely echoed something that happens in my (as yet unpublished) novel, Exile. Here, a university student stands for a long time in front of a poster that calls for a boycott of Israel, vacillating over whether or not to tear it down – in the end, she does. (This scene, by the way, can be read on my website: noragold.com.) So life imitates art, I thought, standing in the lobby of that movie theatre, watching my secret ally escaping out the door.
I am not, heaven forbid, advocating that any of us do anything that violates the rule of law or in any way dishonours ourselves or our community. But we must, each of us individually, try and do at least one thing this week that expresses our rejection of, and resistance to, IAW. The good efforts of our community’s institutions to combat IAW do not absolve us from our individual responsibility to fight this vileness ourselves wherever we can. For inspiration, think of Esther. Think of her courage. This is the essential message of Purim.
So let’s be happy it’s Adar.
As we survived Haman long ago, we will also survive our current enemies. And in the meantime, as we struggle against them, let’s remember to rejoice and be happy, because this is the true survival of our people. As we did a few nights ago, we will on Purim year after year – God willing – read the Megillah, eat a hamantash and drink until we can’t tell the difference between Israeli Apartheid Week and Purim.
Nora Gold is a researcher, a prize-winning author and a co-editor of the soon-to-be launched journal Jewish Fiction Online. She can be reached at noragold.com.