Tuesday, April 16, 2024

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 22-03-2024 00:01

Purim and the National Day of Memory for Truth and Justice

Argentina’s National Day of Memory for Truth and Justice is to be commemorated on the same day that we observe and celebrate Purim in the Hebrew calendar.

We live under two calendars, both Hebrew and Gregorian, and as the years go by, from time to time, in the same 24 hours, it happens that we are touched by memories and precepts linked to two situations that echo in us in a diametrically different way.

This year Argentina’s National Day of Memory for Truth and Justice is to be commemorated on the same day that we observe and celebrate Purim in the Hebrew calendar.

March 24 is the date chosen by Argentine people to remember that day in 1976 when the worst dictatorship in its history began. One that dragged us to the lowest levels in terms of respect for individual rights. Human rights were only a concept thinkable in other horizons before then.

Argentina’s defeat in 1982 of the Malvinas (Falkland) War and the military government’s failure managing the subsequent economic crisis opened us the door towards a democratic recovery.

The struggle of human rights organisations was born and, through the trial, justice and punishment of the accountable, they aimed to engrave in fire on our hearts the famous "Never Again."

For Jewish Argentine people, both calendars merge this year, cross-questioning the very meaning of the concept of memory as a driving force of future change and requiring of us a deep reflection on what should not be continued or what is worth to be insisted on.

On Purim, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from annihilation at the hands of an official of the Achaemenid Empire,  we celebrate with delight and joy, disguise ourselves with masks, in a kind of dramatisation of the story known in the Holy Scriptures as the Book of Esther.

At the same time on National Remembrance Day we want to strip and get rid of all the masks, in order to once again be clear about who was who, who is who, and who we are today.

Purim is the festival of contradictions; we “drink until we can hardly distinguish good from evil.” We commemorate a day that was meant to represent the annihilation of the Jewish people and turned out to be a day of salvation and joy. We remember how the wicked Haman, our mortal enemy, was finally hanged on the same pole on which our leader Mordechai, was doomed to perish and on top of this as if that were not enough, we dressed up.

Wine is a core part of our tradition. The sanctification of Shabbat should be done with wine both at the beginning of the day (kidush) and at the beginning of the week that follows the break (havdalah); Wine is also present at wedding ceremonies and wine is also one of the most important components of the Pesach Seder. It is not surprising then that wine is also fundamental for Purim's festival, the most mysterious celebration of our calendar.

The principle of drinking wine on Purim until one cannot distinguish between Haman and Mordechai teaches us a powerful lesson. In a world where good and evil seem to blur, where morality seems to fade between shadows, our tradition tells us that there are boundaries.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director of global action, often says that the world today seems to live on Purim – to an extent that we cannot differentiate where the good is and where the evil.

In the midst of the deepest darkness, let us never lose hope nor stop fighting for what is just.

In this time of Purim and Remembrance, let us remember that even in the darkest moments, are our elections and actions what can make the difference between oppression and freedom, between injustice and justice.

Our claim for dignity, for the holiness of life of every human being and for human rights, is a non-delegable one, and requires from us a persistent voice and presence even when the world seems to be turned upside down.

We must then highlight how painful the comments are by those who claim to defend human rights but who do not raise their voice against all the atrocities carried out by Hamas in Israel on October 7.

How do you understand that feminist groups do not raise their voices when the rapists themselves filmed the transformation of women's bodies into battlefields?

How do you explain the silence of human rights organisations that once led the return to democracy in Argentina versus the burning of babies, the cutting off of heads and the kidnappings? By now five months of complete ignorance about where and how are our nine fellow citizens, including two children, as so many once were appropriated by the dictatorship?

How do you preserve the existence of UNRWA, an agency of the United Nations meant to educate, feed and heal the Palestinians in Gaza when its involvement in teaching people to hate their Jewish neighbours, generation after generation, has been exposed, as was hiding their arsenals and artillery inside its schools and hospitals, as well as the participation of its personnel in the actions of October 7 regardless of using in addition, donations coming from countries all around to build their network of tunnels?

These are difficult times, of growing anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, denialism and hate-filled speech. But it is precisely at these moments when we must increase our efforts and share our inner strength, that strength that arises in each of us when we become aware that throughout our history and even in the midst of the bloodiest challenges, there have always been some space and breaches for hope, gratitude and joy, for celebrating life.

Although we face significant challenges, we must not nor cannot allow that hate and violence prevent us from raising our voice and proudly defending our identity.

Let us not let fear and worry devour us; let us derive our energy towards solidarity, education and ongoing promotion of understanding and celebration of diversity.

By standing firmly in our convictions, traditions and values, by supporting each other as a community and as active members of the societies in which we live, we can always find strength and hope, even at the most difficult times.


* By Batia D. de Nemirovsky & Ariel Gelblung. The authors are respectively Simon Wiesenthal Center's Vice-President and Director from the Latin American Office 

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Dr. Ariel Gelblung

Dr. Ariel Gelblung

Dr. Ariel Gelblung is the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Director for Latin America


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