tIt seems as if Purim’s a little early this year.
The holiday of masks and unmasking, of danger and rescue, of unprovoked hatred, near genocide, and table-turning, won’t begin until the evening of March 16. But the events set in Shu-Shu-Shushan long ago seem to be happening in real life right now.
Purim reminds us that it’s been two years since the pandemic started; most shuls did something in person in 2020, although already there was a sense of trouble brewing, of something weird slouching toward us. The world closed down about a week later. Purim 2021 was online. This year, with tentative re-openings, with holiday masks above meeting covid-averting masks below at about mid-face, Purim will be back in person.
So that’ll be odd.
But pre-Purim, here, in real life, with absolutely no tinge of humor or wish-fulfillment or fantasy, a probably insane little dictator, a man so pale that it seems impossible that red blood could flow in his veins, a man whose shirtless horseback ride from years ago was so grotesque that it’s permanently implanted in so many horrified memories, decided to invade another country. For no other reason than, apparently, he wanted to. He’s already caused the deaths of hundreds of people, and there is good reason to fear that the number will rise precipitously. Tragically. Unthinkably.
Who knew that such things could happen in this century? In our lifetimes?
But there is something else happening now. Something good, amid the carnage.
It’s the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, the 44-year-old actor-turned-president.
The absolutely unlikely president of Ukraine, the man whose life has imitated art as it imitated life, who went from being an actor playing the president to being elected to be the president to now playing the part of president with authenticity, sincerity, brains, and extraordinary courage.
We know that Mr. Zelensky can dance as if there is not a single bone in his body because we’ve seen him on the Ukrainian version of Dancing With the Stars, a competition he won handily. (Jazz-handily?) We know that he can act because we’ve seen him voice Paddington. We also know he’s adorable because we’ve seen him on Dancing With the Stars, and we’ve seen him voice Paddington.
But what we had no way of knowing until now — and quite possibly he didn’t know either — is that Mr. Zelensky is brave. His physical and moral courage is undeniable, and it is inspirational.
And he’s Jewish. And that also is inspirational.
He’s an unlikely combination of Mordecai and Esther, staying with his people, facing danger with and for them.
We don’t know how this will turn out. We don’t know who will win this war, and we don’t know if Mr. Zelensky will survive it. We don’t know if Vladimir Putin — the dictator whose first name oddly echoes Mr. Zelensky’s, making clear that Russians and Ukrainians, or at any rate Russian and Ukrainian, are similar but different, and whose last name can be misread by a casual observer as Purim — will give up, or if the concentrated hatred of most of the world just will make him stronger.
But we do know that Mr. Zelensky’s courage, strength, and decency make him an inspiration for the rest of us. We hope that like Mordecai and Esther, he can prevail over Putin’s Haman.