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Stay Home Shabbat: Responding to Communal Safety Needs

Updated: Jul 7, 2020


This week, in respecting the King County request for organizations to avoid large gatherings, Kol Ami is canceling all programming for Shabbat. Our sanctuary will be empty as will our classrooms. We are giving a true Shabbat to our community. Even the building will rest. The Universe and King County are advising us: stay home, step back, wash your hands, get some extra rest, bake some Hamentashin. Study Torah in your home, online through a chat group. Watch a live stream of Shabbat services from the comfort of your own home. I will be doing a special Shabbat live stream from my home on Friday night at 7:30pm on our Kol Ami public Facebook page. More info will be in HaKol about virtual options for celebrating Shabbat. That is this week.

Next week is Purim. Monday. We had a great event planned for Saturday night to celebrate Purim and raise money for Kol Ami but postponed it until May 30...we did this on Monday. We postponed our big event because we suspected large gatherings would be banned soon enough.

No community is immune to tragedy. With knowledge of what had happened in China and Italy, we saw the need to make safety our top priority. Looking back and looking ahead- we know we will survive. Our communities have made it through the unforeseen before and we have marked these times of crisis and the story of our survival. It is what we do.

Purim marks a moment of potential catastrophe and our survival of this moment in time with a megillah-a story on a scroll. On Purim we publicly retell the story of Esther, Mordecai, Haman and King Achaverosh. We read it aloud, feast, give Tzedakah and make merry merrily. But there is more than one Purim. Our lot in life has been tenuous before and after the near massacre of the Jewish community of Banylonia in the age of Queens Esther and Vashti.

Throughout Jewish history small and large Jewish communities alike have commemorated their survival through the writing of a megillah/a scroll of the story of what that community endured. On the anniversary of the date of escaping harm the community celebrates a Purim Katan, a small Purim. They read the scroll. They wrote of their escape and have a feast. They give tzedakah. They even preceded the celebration with a fast honoring the losses.

Jewish communities all over the world celebrated their own survival stories. They walked through fire and violence and plague and earthquakes and illness and lived, as a community, to tell the story on the other side. They walked through fear, anxiety and loss- together. This Shabbat and Purim come in the midst of a crisis in our great state of Washington. We rise to the occasion this year by not gathering in person. We rise to this moment by privileging safety above all else. We are humbled by the power of nature. And we vow to nurture each other to maintain health or back towards health. None of us are immune to Covid-19. We are all in this together.

This year we will celebrate. We will feast. We will give tzedakah. But this year will be different because we will not all be in a room together. Next year we will tell the story of how we endured. As we are in the midst of our own story, we can also look back and learn more about the stories of survival of communities in the past. Here are some of their stories:

A few examples of communities who celebrated a Purim Katan care of

  • Purim of the Bandits (22 Elul)

Popularly known as Purim de los Ladrones(Purim of the Bandits), this celebration marked the deliverance of the Jewish population of Gumeldjina, a city near Adrianople, Ottoman Empire, from accusations of disloyalty. In 1786 the city was attacked by an estimated 5,000 mountain brigands. Though the governor managed to drive off the invaders, the Jews were accused of helping the bandits enter the city. The community went to great lengths to prove its innocence, and further disaster was averted.

  • Purim Burghul (29 Tevet)

In 1795 the Jews of Tripoli, Libya, established Purim Burghul to celebrate the ouster of Ali Burghul Pasha Cezayrli, who usurped the throne and conducted a reign of terror against them from 30 July 1793 to 20 January 1795.

  • Purim Cairo (28 Adar)

In 1524 the governor of Egypt, Aḥmed Shaiṭan Pasha, arrested twelve of the Jewish leaders of Cairo, including Chief Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra, and demanded an exorbitant ransom. One day he threatened to murder all the Jews in Cairo after he had finished taking his bath. He was stabbed to death in the bathhouse by one of his junior officers and the massacre was averted.

  • Purim Hebron (Window Purim) (14 Tevet)

The Jewish community of Hebron has celebrated two historic Purims, both from the Ottoman period.[11] One is called Window Purim, or Purim Taka, in which the community was saved when a bag of money mysteriously appeared in a window, enabling them to pay off an extortion fee to the Ottoman Pasha.

  • Purim Narbonne (21 Adar)

In the heat of an argument between a Jew of Narbonne, France, and a Christian fisherman, the Jew struck the Christian and the latter died. Christian residents rioted in the Jewish quarter and stole the entire library belonging to Rabbi Meir ben Isaac. The governor fortuitously arrived on the scene with his troops and order was restored. Rabbi Meir received his library back and wrote a megillahcommemorating the event.

  • Purim Rhodes (14 Adar)

In 1840 Greeks who were in competition with Jews in the sponge trade on the island of Rhodes accused the Jewish community of murdering a child for ritual purposes. The Jews of Rhodes were jailed and tortured, though the child was later discovered alive on the island of Syra. The sultan, 'Abd al-Majid, deposed the local governor and issued a firman confirming the accusations were false. The date of the firman coincided with the date of Purim itself, and so the Jews of Rhodes celebrated a double holiday on that day.

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