The Week in Review
Some things I'm thinking about.
Happy Day After Purim
Or, as it happens to be, Shushan Purim.
I hope you had a wonderful holiday. This year marked many congregation’s two year anniversary of
two weeks to flatten the curve the shutdown. With surgical masks off and costume masks up, the celebration was truly joyous—and probably the beginning of another wave of Covid.
It’s interesting that this holiday of reversals and twists, threats and liberation is the annual Covid marker for the Jewish community. The story of Esther is about so many things, and I was thinking about it yesterday as a very scary and essential Jewish story: threats of violence and death and displacement are always with us. Esther, which in many ways is farcical and absurd, turns that reality on its head and asks us to laugh at it. In that way, celebrating Purim is not just about dressing up and eating hamantaschen, but also a way of taking ownership and a modicum of control over the absurdity of human existence. And it comes with action: one of the mitzvot is to give matanot le’evyonim — not just charity, but specifically, “gifts to the poor.” We have power in this story. This is one little good thing we can do in a huge crazy world.
For more on Esther, if you aren’t already over Purim and on to cleaning out your cabinets for Passover yet, check out my latest episode of While You Were Sleeping in Hebrew School with Rivy Poupko Kletenik.
And check out this article in JTA by Seattle’s own Rachel Roman on the challenges of alcoholism and Purim, featuring Seattle’s Jewish Addiction Awareness Network and its founder, Marla Kaufman. Please know that if you are struggling with addiction, there are Jewish-centered resources, including JAAN and JFS! (JFS currently has a full caseload but can help get you connected.)
Ukraine is on our minds, too, of course.
At least one piece of good news: Mercer Island native, now Harvard student Avi Schiffman—who you may remember from the Coronavirus tracker website he created in his bedroom in 2020—has co-launched a website to connect Ukrainians fleeing their country with shelter.
I’ve been back and forth with Avi about an interview, but he’s been a little, uh, busy. So check out this article from NBC Boston.
Some last words (for now, I hope) about the UW Israel studies story. Professor Liora Halperin has been given a new title and her position at UW is secure. I am happy about this. Academic freedom should prevail, and I do not believe she should be punished or pushed out of her job for her scholarship. But I want to clarify something that subsequent coverage of this story glossed: if an institution relies on and solicits financial support from a base of community members, it cannot then cry “academic freedom” when the donors are unhappy. This, to my mind, is not really about academic freedom. It’s about a university soliciting donations, allegedly being deceitful about its intentions, and then leaving a rising scholar in a horrible position when the donor pushes back. While it may look like a victory for Halperin, her job, according to the UW, was never in question, although she said as much in other articles. In these situations, no one wins. There is no “healing.” Distrust of the academy only deepens among those outside of the ivory tower, and those within the university grow to further despise those silly uneducated folk always making a fuss.
While this story has become international news, what’s not making headlines is the fact that the Middle East Studies Association is voting on Tuesday on a resolution to endorse BDS. Even while listing numerous academic freedom violations among its member countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, MESA singles out Israel in the name of academic freedom and human rights.
Happy day after Purim, and Shabbat shalom.
Update: Liora clarified that she never said her job was in jeopardy. I was referring to quotes in two articles where she seemed to imply that her job was not secure, or that she had not heard from the university about a plan to keep the program funded.
This Week Last Year
This week’s parasha is Tzav.
Candlelighting in Seattle is at 7:01 p.m.