February 26, 2024
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Reading Megillat Esther in Front of the UN

The United Nations is the ultimate arena for Israel bashers and haters of Zion. But on Purim 2016, the unhallowed grounds of the UN were the scene of prayers for world Jewry and protest with signs held aloft expressing support for Israel in the face of so much opposition.

It’s Purim day, I am standing and holding a scroll of the book of Esther in front of the United Nations. It is a quiet and sunny afternoon. Some passersby gaze curiously at the tallit upon my shoulders. Nearby are 20 fellow participants who have joined me in a planned Megillah reading. The masks many of them are wearing in the spirit of Purim are also drawing some attention. I begin to recite the blessings, and then the book of Esther evoking the story of Jewry’s salvation in ancient Persia, to the small but spirited crowd. Clenching their groggers they stand eagerly awaiting to hear the next pronouncement of the name of Haman in the reading. The noise of their groggers symbolically drowning out the name of Haman has extra meaning in front of the UN.

The event was organized by AFSI (Americans for Safe Israel). Hats off to them!

We are a small group. Since it is Purim, even the usual activists are busy. Who wants to be bothered by the world’s problems on Purim? Holiday celebrations have filled synagogues and homes throughout the tri-state area. Hundreds of thousands have attended Megillah readings. We are just a diminutive few. In the context of the massive holiday festivities taking place that day within the Jewish world, I feel small and insignificant.

Furthermore, in the week prior to Purim, 18,000 supporters converged upon Washington for the annual AIPAC Conference. Soon, tens of thousands will march up Fifth Avenue in New York City on behalf of Israel, in the annual Salute to Israel parade. Those are significant numbers.

But the individual does matter. He can make the difference. In the words of Glenn Richter, who addressed the group, “Individuals turn the tide. They win the greatest struggles.” Richter was one of the founders of the movement known as the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry back in 1964, and one of the architects of small, rapid-response Soviet Jewry demonstrations. That was at a time when the plight of Soviet Jewry was hardly noticed and three million Jews were virtual prisoners in the USSR.

It is of course also worth mentioning that the actions of two individuals, Mordechai and Esther, had a monumental impact defending world Jewry in ancient Persia.

Are there not enough places to read the Megillah? Why the UN on Purim? Actually, the UN is an ideal setting on Purim. Cooped up within the confines of a few buildings along First Avenue in Manhattan, there are member nations who are the embodiment of Hamans as they threaten Israel; many are the likes of Achashverosh who act as many willing supporters and enablers of the Hamans. There are the bystanders who stand in silence and the few friendly nations who support Israel. Then there is Mordechai and Esther, symbolized by the Israeli delegation that stands up for the one and only Jewish State bearing the brunt of the all too frequent anti-Israel vitriol heard within the UN.

Our presence at the UN also sent out messages on Purim day. That silence will not be an option. Just as Esther and Mordechai acted in their time, so too, Jews must take the lead speaking out against the international organization that regularly singles out Israel for condemnation. At a time when Israel faces so much pressure and threats of isolation by nations demanding dangerous concessions, who will stand by Israel—literally on the streets and demand to be heard? It was also a message to the world that the degradation of Israel at the UN is unacceptable.

One participant referred to the Purim gathering at the UN as a prayer, “a moment to express the hope for a different world, where instead of lies and defamation at the UN, words of praise for Israel as a light to the nations will be heard.”

By Larry Domnitch

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