I hated Hebrew school. The monotonous repetition of prayer and cultural history always went in one ear and out the other — I found more joy in the laughter of my classmates after I was sent to the principal’s office for intentionally frustrating my teachers. Nevertheless, my parents insisted that Judaism remain a part of my identity, whether or not this learning occurred in a stained-glass sanctuary.

What stuck with me most growing up, unsurprising for a kid too stubborn to comprehend the religious significance of the events, was the celebration of holidays. Celebrated last weekend, Purim is one of the holidays that struck a chord with me. While much of my Jewish experience as a kid felt forced, such as my parents making me keep Kosher and attend synagogue on Shabbat mornings, Purim’s festivities never felt this way.

Purim, at its core, is a celebration. Barely understanding why, I dressed in elaborate, carnivalesque costumes with my younger sister as we sang and danced in place of traditional prayer. The festiveness of this holiday shines through its customs — eating Hamantaschen (a traditional Jewish dessert), using noisemakers and adults getting drunk (at the judgment of a rabbi, of course). I kind of thought of it as the Jewish version of Halloween.

But it was only recently, as I reflected on recent events in our community and country, that I began to grasp the underlying significance of the celebration of Purim.

Over the past few months, Jews across the country have experienced a shock with the prevalence of anti-Semitic threats toward schools, synagogues and other Jewish institutions. On March 7, Chicago Jewish Day School, a mere 30 minutes from my house, received a bomb threat. This hit home. Even at the University of Michigan, threats in the form of hacked emails have rocked students like myself who never believed this hatred could exist on our campus. Coinciding with the rise of xenophobic, un-American attitudes and ethnically driven immigration bans, the anti-Semitic sentiments come at a time when much of the country lives in fear.

Of course, these attitudes are not news to Jews across the world; some have even compared Trump’s rhetoric to Adolf Hitler’s use of the “Big Lie” during the rise of Nazism. And it was not until Feb. 21, after weeks of criticism from Jewish organizations for his lack of interest in the anti-Semitic threats, that President Trump issued a public statement about these issues.

So, when the highest official in our country neglects to pay proper attention to the dangers of these ideologies, manifested in threats toward our communities, where do we turn?

Though we can look to our government for answers, hope for change can be found much closer to home, in the shape of a three-cornered, jelly-filled cookie.

Purim celebrates the Jewish victory over Haman, an evil associate of the Persian King who devised a plot to wipe out all of the Jews. Ring a bell? At no better time does this holiday, commemorating the defeat of anti-Semitism in ancient history, fall on our calendar.

No FBI investigation will completely stop the wave of recent threats, and it will certainly not eradicate the pervasiveness of anti-Semitic ideology across the country. Purim reminds us that one way to combat the hatred prevalent in our society is to laugh, dance and celebrate.

Acting as a festival of sorts, Purim encourages even the least religious people to come together in a joyous, collective motion of pride, identity and hope. Eating the Hamantaschen cookie, symbolizing the three-cornered shape of the villain Haman’s hat, represents in a comical yet significant way our destruction of discrimination.

So, last weekend, although I did not dress up or attend services with my family, I kept in mind the significance of the holiday. Whether it occurred in the kitchen making cookies or in a sanctuary, Jews across the world celebrated a previous defeat of anti-Semitism in an attempt to make change in the present. And in the process, many realized that their Jewish identity is not grounded in education, but in thought and action that lie beyond the constraints of a classroom.

Maybe I did learn something in Hebrew school after all.

Ben Charlson is an LSA freshman.

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