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A Purim Letter from the Editors: Hamans Never Triumph

Jessica Kirzane and The Editors

וִימֵ֞י הַפּוּרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה לֹ֤א יַֽעַבְרוּ֙ מִתּ֣וֹךְ הַיְּהוּדִ֔ים וְזִכְרָ֖ם לֹא־יָס֥וּף מִזַּרְעָֽם

And these days of Purim shall never cease among the Jews, and the memory of them shall never perish among their descendants.

Tayere Leyeners,

Ordinarily I look forward to compiling the Purim issue of In geveb. The editors begin months in advance with an email chain of ideas. The thought of making our readers laugh thrills us — it’s a chance to peel back the seriousness with which we take our study of Yiddish language and culture, and ourselves as purported experts with responsibilities to earnest literary meaning and/or historical understanding. We reveal a part of ourselves that we’d ordinarily try to hide – one that can be flippant about the work that we hold dear, is unafraid to make mistakes while figuring out the punchline, and plays fast and loose with facts in favor of fun.

This year was different. It began with our own pandemic-burnout-induced inability to find the energy and creativity for jokes. But in recent weeks that glumness vis a vis Purim took a backseat to the horror, anger, and deep sadness we all felt as we read, listened to, and scrolled through news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing humanitarian crisis. The global refugee crisis has long struck a chord with Yiddish activists, translators, and teachers, and this particular catastrophe, with its deep resonances to Yiddish culture past and present, stopped us in our tracks. Suddenly, we didn’t feel like laughing anymore.

What were we going to do about Purim?

This year, my own thoughts turned to acts of spiritual resistance and revenge associated with the holiday of Purim, moments when Jewish communities named the danger they were experiencing and situated it within Jewish tradition by drawing parallels between Haman and contemporary persecutors of the Jews. I thought of the arc of peril and salvation embodied in Purim Vintz, a “Second Purim” that commemorates the expulsion of the Jewish population of the Frankfurter Judengasse during he Fettmilch Uprising of 1614 and their later return to their homes in 1616. I wondered if writing about such complete triumph, in which the anti-Jewish Fettmilch was executed and beheaded and his corpse hung on the gates of the city, would provide In geveb readers with a model of hope for a sudden reversal of fortune. This week I find myself listening to Yiddish Glory, and in particular to the song “Shelakhmones Hitlern” in which a comparison between Hitler and Haman allows for the powerful assertion that Hamans never triumph.

She­lakhmones Hitlern (Purim Gifts for Hitler) [feat. Alexan­der Sev­as­t­ian, Loyko & Psoy Korolenko], in Yid­dish Glo­ry: The Lost Songs of World War II

For some, the knowledge of historical precedent for ritualized hope might be sustaining in our bleak moment of humanitarian crisis. For instance, you might draw your own hope from this postcard from an American Jewish corporal serving in World War II, who feels assured of the eventual triumph over Hitler because of his similarity to Haman, who got his comeuppance.

For others, such triumph might feel hollow in the face of the sheer number of human lives already lost in Ukraine. You may be looking for something focused less on Jewish survival than on Jewish rage and revenge. In the Purim photo below, Holocaust survivors in the Landsberg DP camp in Germany made a mock-tombstone for Haman and Hitler. Theirs is not a story of return — too much has been destroyed to allow for that — but it is one of retribution, and of the psychic release of mocking an evil person.

And perhaps what you are looking for is a call for new heroes, a focus not on Haman but on those who might redeem us from him. I recently taught Los Angeles poet Shifra Weiss’s 1953 poem about Queen Esther (in Tsum morgndikn morgn), and her simple observation lingers with me: in every generation there arises new Hamans, and so in every generation we need new Esthers to bring about his downfall. This rings true for the present moment as well. Below is my rough translation:

אסתר המלכה

אסתר המלכה –
ס׳לױכט פֿאַר אונדז דײַן הײליקע געשטאַלט,
ס׳לאָקט אונדז דײַן „דאָלע“,
װי דו האָסט געבראַכט
אױף המנען די מפּלה.

דײַנע װוּנדער־טאַטן
אין דער מגילה,
װי דו האָסט פֿאַר אונדזער פֿאָלק
געבראכט די גאולה.

נאָר המנען האָט די ערד
ניט גענומען,
אין יעדער דור
איז אַ נײַער המן געקומען.

מיט בלי און בלוט
און טױטן סם,
טרעבלינקע, גאַז־קאַמערן
פֿאַר אונדזער שטאַם.

Queen Esther

Queen Esther –
Your holy figure shines for us
Your fate tempts us
How you brought about
Haman’s downfall.

Your wonderous deeds are
In the megile
You brought redemption
To our people.

But Haman did not remain
Buried in the earth.
In every generation
A new Haman arose.

With lead and blood
And poison
Treblinka, gas chambers
For our people.

So, if you arrived at In geveb’s Purim issue somewhat reluctantly because you are not in the mood for laughter, perhaps Purim offers an outlet for other feelings as well, such as rage, hope, and despair. I encourage you to feel them, and not hide behind a mask of levity.

If what you need is laughter, however — just a momentary break from the awful events in the news, a chance to be silly even if silliness is in friction with our moment — today is your day. The rest of this Purim issue features funnies from In geveb editors and their friends. If you are so inclined, we hope you enjoy them.

Whether or not you choose to engage with the rest of our Purim writing, we hope you find ways to express your shock, horror, rage, and sadness. We also hope you find ways to experience joy. We are here with you.

A freylekhn Purim,

Jessica Kirzane and the rest of the In geveb editorial team

MLA STYLE
Kirzane, Jessica, and The Editors. “A Purim Letter from the Editors: Hamans Never Triumph.” In geveb, March 2022: https://ingeveb.org/blog/hamans-never-triumph.
CHICAGO STYLE
Kirzane, Jessica, and The Editors. “A Purim Letter from the Editors: Hamans Never Triumph.” In geveb (March 2022): Accessed May 21, 2024.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jessica Kirzane

Jessica Kirzane is the assistant instructional professor of Yiddish at the University of Chicago. She holds a PhD in Yiddish Studies from Columbia University. Jessica is the Editor-in-Chief of In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies.

The Editors