Should we Celebrate Purim?

By Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

After surviving the worst massacre in the history of the Jewish community in the United States, I and many have pondered if we should celebrate Purim this year. That is not to say that we would ignore the three mitzvot associated with Purim and enumerated in Megillat Esther: hearing Megillat Esther read publicly; Mishloach Manot (the exchange of gifts); Matanot La-evyonim (taking care of the neediest). All three mitzvot will be fulfilled as always. The larger question remains: is it okay to celebrate Purim?

Mandated joyous events were not curtailed post-October 27. Marriages, baby namings, britot (circumcisions), and B’nai Mitzvah continued unabated, albeit with lessened celebrations, as many, even beyond the immediate mourners, were not ready to partake in celebrations. There are many that are still unable to do so, and I pray that one day they will be joyful participants. For quite some time I was unable to feel joy. I was not an immediate mourner required to recite the Kaddish, yet I undertook the responsibility of reciting it for eleven months, as I personally mourn and grieve the loss very deeply. When I publicly announce the yahrtzeitin for the day, I conclude by reading the names of all eleven martyrs, and then announce the recitation of the Kaddish. In this heavy moment, without asking, my entire congregation rises to recite Kaddish as a community, and has done so since the first funeral. That communal bond is indeed powerful.

So we mourn together. Are we permitted to rejoice? Dare we? Would it be disrespectful to our dead? Judaism is about celebrating life, even in moments that challenge us. We are asked in the Talmud that if a funeral procession is headed down a road and a wedding procession down a parallel road, and both roads intersect, which procession goes first? Our sages taught us that not only does the wedding procession proceed first, but the funeral procession must remain out of sight, so as not to lessen the joy of the bride and groom. Indeed, God is involved in our movement from mourning to joy as we read in Psalm 30: You transformed my mourning into dancing, my sackcloth into robes of joy.

We will soon be reading in Megillat Esther that through Esther’s bravery, the evil intent of Haman was averted. The Pittsburgh Jewish community lost eleven beautiful souls through the hands of Haman’s newest incarnate, but a greater massacre was averted through the bravery of Pittsburgh’s finest. They are my modern day Esthers, and I am one of the lucky ones who lived to tell it. So yes, I will be celebrating Purim this year, as I celebrate that I can greet the dawn each and every morning, grateful to G-d that I can do so. While my joy will be tempered, much like the breaking of the glass at the conclusion of a wedding, I am grateful to be here to celebrate Purim.

Jeffrey Myers serves as Rabbi of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha of Pittsburgh, PA.