Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Purim Turn-Around Miracle

The year: 1988. The place: Siberia, Russia. The setting: The mess hall in a Soviet army camp. The room is simply built, made of cement, walls are painted a light green. The floor too, is made of cement, and painted gray. The room is filled with chairs, upon which sit 140 soldiers,chatting amongst each other as they wait for their commander to speak.

Among these soldiers was Vladimir*, an 18 year old Jewish man from Chernigov, a city then part of the Soviet Union, today in the Ukraine. Vladimir was relaxing with the other soldiers, waiting for the pep talk. As he waited, he thought of home, his family left behind, his mother's cooking, and the green trees that lined the streets of his home town. 

Vladimir was jolted out of his daydream as the commander call him up to the front of the room. 

The commander called for attention, and the room became silent. He began his speech, using Vladimir as a live example.

"A Jewish Jew (Israeli) is an embarrassment to the world", he announced. "A Russian Jew is a terrible person. But worst of all", he finished, pointing to Vladimir, "is a Ukrainian Jew."

Years passed. Vladimir finished his army service, the Soviet Union collapsed. Vladimir returned home, began to work, became a successful partner of a large firm. 

And he never forgot the lesson his commander drilled into him that day. He is Jewish, through no fault of his own, but that is a real shame. The best plan of action would be to forget about his religion. Barring his ability to forget it, he should hide it, pretend that the fact doesn't exist, stay as far from it as possible. 

Despite his best intentions, Vladimir has been unable to ignore the pulling of his Jewish soul. He has put on tefillin for the first time, been inspired by Torah reading in the synagogue, and readily offers his help with community affairs. Still, the embarrassment remained. So now he began to enjoy being Jewish, but that booming voice in the back of his head wouldn't leave him alone "Worst of all is a Ukrainian Jew"

On Purim, Vladimir walked into the hall where the Purim party was held. He stood by the door for a few moments, taking in the scene. The room was packed, decorated with balloons, and most telling of all were the smiles on the faces filling the room. For the first time in his life, Yuri felt proud to be a Jew.

A few minutes later, Vladimir stood up to make a lechaim. Once again, he stood in front of 140 people. This time, however, he stood with pride as he made a lechaim to the continuity of the Jewish people.

*Name and identifying details have been changed.

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