1545 Bushkill Street
Easton, PA 18042
Phone: (610) 258-5343
Fax: (610) 330-9100
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Thursday, 7:25 am
Minyan

Friday, 8:00 pm
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Saturday, 9:30 am
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BAS Religious School welcomes all children ages 1-8th grade to enrolll in 2009-2010 program. Everyone is welcome.
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BAS Rabbi's Message

Message from Rabbi Daniel Stein

March, 2012

A joke, popular in Israel during the First Gulf War and its aftermath, goes as follows: What is the difference between Sadam and Hamman? First, Hamman was hanged, and then we wore masks. With Saddam, we wear masks first.

As Ofra Nevo and Jacob Levine point out in their article “Jewish Humor Strikes Again: The Outburst of Humor in Israel During the Gulf War,” this joke is funny because it operates on many levels. (As an aside, a surefire way to suck the funny out of a joke is to explain the elements that account for its humor. Be warned: that is the task at hand).

It is an example of Jewish laughter through tears–the situation during the Gulf War was terrifying; during the course of the war, 42 scud missiles struck Israel causing hundreds of causalities. Because of the ambiguity of Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons program and because of his history of using chemical weapons against his own people, the Israeli public routinely wore gas masks during air raids. Of course, the threat of an attack on Jews using gas invoked the specter of the Holocaust and all the associated trauma. Yet the Israeli—and Jewish—response was to laugh.

Here, the humor is achieved by calling on the Jewish communal memory of another time when an enemy in the Persian Gulf sought to annihilate all the Jews, though they were not to blame (sir). Saddam Hussein, the joke accurately predicted, will one day suffer the same fate as his predecessor Haman. In the meantime, we have to endure fear and hardship. Gam Zeh Ya'avor, the Israelis say. This too shall pass. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Gulf War ended on Purim, the day that the Jews took rest from their enemies in the Book of Esther.

As Jews, we have the tendency to view our communal experiences through the lens of our collective memory. In some ways, we have no other choice—how could we, when we read every Passover, “In every generation, they rise up against us, but the Holy One, praised be God, delivered us from their hands.” Our history gives us inspiration; it gives us strength during trying times. This use of history, though, can also be a double-edged sword: it can give license to hate and justify actions otherwise beyond the pale of our moral compass. On Purim day, three years after the end of the Persian Gulf War, Baruch Goldstein observed the holiday by entering the Shrine of the Patriarchs in Hebron and massacring 29 Palestinians at prayer. The same act motivated the Hassidic rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg to write a pamphlet praising Goldstein's act as a kiddush ha-shem—a sanctification of God.

As Purim approaches this year, all of these tensions come to mind. Israel again faces an ominous Persian threat. I am writing this shortly after the bungled Iranian attacks on Israeli targets in Asia, and one can sense the escalating tensions. Dena and I recently purchased tickets to visit Israel after Purim, and, though we are very excited, our optimism is colored by fear. No doubt, our emotions are colored by the weight of our historical narrative.

That, I think, is one of the great challenges facing Jews and the Jewish State. The complexities of defense, security, and diplomacy are surely informed by the facts on the ground. For us, though, there is an added weight borne through the experiences of our history. I am sure that, as uncertainty around Iran increases, we will hear many—not without cause—comparing Ahmadinejad to Hamman. We must be wise enough to discern when these comparisons promote the best of Jewish values: tenacity, courage in trying times, and faith that our values are good enough and right enough to outlive our enemies. At the same time, we must be aware that these impulses can cause hatred without cause, and can lead to behaviors that stand starkly at odds with what it means to be a Jew.

During the weekly havdallah ritual, Jews recite the lines from the Megillah: “ ”.ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר
“The Jews enjoyed light and gladness, joy and exultation.” Then, all assembled answer, “So may it be for us.”