Headstones were toppled at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery, also known as the Stone Road Cemetery, in Rochester, N.Y. Photo courtesy of News 10 NBC WHEC

No Esther in sight


The role of Achashverosh, the vain king who prefers to drink from goblets of gold, who is ready to turn over a nation to a minister who offers ten thousand talents of silver, is too easily filled this year’s Purim. Haman and Bannon practically rhyme. It’s a facile elision I’m not sure I agree with, but it comes naturally. But where is our Esther, and where is our Mordechai? 

I don’t think people are still pinning their hopes on Ivanka and Jared. They couldn’t do anything to stop the erasure of Jews from the White House statement about the Holocaust. And Trump still denounced the Orthodox Jewish reporter who pitched him that softball question so he could denounce anti-Semitism.

It was only after the first Jewish cemetery was vandalized that Trump finally had something to say about the subject. That gave Jews on the right a glimmer of hope that the Haman and Achashverosh shoes wouldn’t fit. Was Ivanka working behind the scenes?

But after more Jewish cemeteries were vandalized, Trump shared another brilliant insight. He thinks it’s possible that anti-Trump people might be knocking down Jewish tombstones in order to make him look bad. Of course, David Duke said it first – not that Trump notices or cares where he gets his ideas from. That’s right up Achashverosh’s alley: everything bad happens to him; his is never the flaw or fault that allows it.

If there’s one thing Trump loves to talk about, it’s not crimes of hate but the crime rate. Despite Trump’s fantabulism, it’s increasing across the U.S. for real in just one way, hate crime. But he won’t talk about the seven African American transgender women who were murdered. Or give an ounce of reflection to how his rhetoric against immigrants might have played a role when an Indian engineer was murdered by a crazy white man who screamed “Get out of my country!” 

But that’s old news. Like Peter denied Jesus (l’havdil – not to morally compare them), Trump and his entourage won’t talk about how the perpetrators could be following the lead of his rhetoric. Every day we keep learning in new ways that Trump does not have the capacity or desire to understand what’s going on, or to take responsibility, the way we would want a president to do in order to lead the nation.

But if Trump doesn’t get it that cemetery vandalizers are undoubtedly anti-Semitic, how could his two closest Jews, Ivanka and Jared, not? It’s inconceivable that neither of them understands what kind of a person you have to be to knock down Jewish tombstones.

Any or all of these three things must be true: Jared and Ivanka are too cowed by Bannon to do anything, or they don’t have the power to change Trump’s course when Bannon is pushing him, or they are willing to let it slide as long as Jared gets what he wants for Israel.

I would guess number three, but whichever it might be, it means neither of them is prepared to be Esther. Not that I wouldn’t like to see Jared in a diadem (on Ivanka it would be redundant), but I don’t think the most beautiful crown will make either one a queen.

The bottom line is that with all that is happening, many right-wing elements in the Jewish community, like Jared, are willing to trade our safety here for the sake of letting Israel do whatever it wants as it trades Palestinian lives and land to build more settlements.

It would be as if Esther were to go to Achashverosh and beg to spare only the lives of a particular Jewish sect in the holy land, while letting Haman carry out his plot against all the other Jews throughout Persia’s empire.

Their bet seems to be that it will work out in the grim end, that Israel and the U.S. don’t need democracy as much as they need more control. They may also be betting that stateside Jews will come out with our privilege intact after everything goes down – that we will get to stay “white,” and not get grouped with Muslims and Latinos. (Never mind that Jews are all races, or that Sephardim may look like Arabs.)

That can only happen if we willingly separate our lives from the lives of Muslims and immigrants and Latinos and Black people and queer people. And maybe some American Jews could have done that, since we have almost forgotten that not too long ago, Jews were not considered white, and that our essential identity was one of refugees. But the world has been conspiring to remind us. 

Trump wants us to believe that we will stay white no matter what happens, as if his opinion will matter, while the cemetery destroyers desperately want us to to know that we never were white. Whoever is wrong, when pushing comes to shoving, I don’t think we will make it through unscathed.

So far, the most extreme extremists in the U.S., the ones who target Muslims and Jews equally, are outside the halls of power – it seems like a litmus test for White House staff is that one must be willing to target Muslims but not say anything against Jews. (And maybe there are too many Hanukkah books, after all.) That makes the Trump administration a natural fit with Jews who accept the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But how long will it be before the wall between being anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim falls as other walls go up? How long before anti-Semitism gets to embody its full meaning: hatred of the descendants of Noah’s son Shem, which includes Ishmaelites and Israelites, Jews and Arabs?

Facing his fear that Esther will fail, Mordecai promises that “help will arise from another place” – and then Esther comes through. Maybe it’s not too late for Ivanka. But for now, we need to be looking for help from that other place. Our best prospect may be the compassion that has been passing back and forth from Muslims to Jews and Jews to Muslims, as we each step in to help when the other is attacked. A Muslim community given the key to a synagogue after its mosque was burned down; Muslims raising funds and giving time to repair Jewish headstones.

Mishloach manot and matanot la’evyonim, sending nourishment to one another, exchanging gifts of encouragement to revive our lives, which are being impoverished by these times. Just like the Jews did for each other at the end of the Scroll of Esther.

Not exactly a silver lining, but if the powers that be can’t generate an Esther, then we have to step into those royal shoes. Let’s step lively.

+