By Laura Seymour
The holiday of Purim is about Esther’s bravery — it took courage to go to the king. Ometz lev, the mitzvah of courage, literally means “dedication of the heart.” When our heart is set, we have the inner strength to overcome fear and doubt. This is not only the soldier kind of courage, but rather the courage that we have because we have trust in G-d. It also means the power to have endurance and persistence, and the strength to be a good person.
Jewish history is filled with heroes who showed great courage like Esther. Here are a few to talk about with your family:
Hannah Senesh was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1921. As a teenager, Hannah was very active in Zionist activity, and in 1939, she moved to a kibbutz in Palestine. World War II broke out and Hannah was very worried about friends and family. In 1943, she joined the Palmach, the Jewish army in Palestine. The Palmach planned a raid to help Jews escape from the Nazis. They would drop soldiers behind enemy lines. Hannah volunteered and was the only woman chosen to go on the raid. Soon after landing, she was captured and tortured to give out plans and codes. Hannah refused to speak and was executed by a firing squad. Word of Hannah’s bravery and strength spread to all the Jews. She remains in the hearts of all Jews and is remembered through her poetry for her bravery. “I wounded another not knowing both ends of an arrow mar. I too was hurt in the battle and shall bear a scar.”
In more ancient times, we had heroes whom we credit with saving Judaism. There is in Rome the famous Arch of Titus showing Romans in 70 CE triumphantly parading spoils from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which they had just destroyed. It is one end of the story of the time that the Romans conquered Israel. This could have been the end of Judaism but it wasn’t, because of the bravery and wisdom of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai. While the Romans laid siege against Jerusalem, ben Zakkai had a plan. His followers pretended he was dead and carried him outside the city gate, but ben Zakkai arose and went to the general who granted ben Zakkai one request: “Give me Yavneh and its sages.” The small academy of Yavneh became the spiritual center of the Jewish people, and a new type of Judaism survived which allowed Judaism to flourish wherever the Jews would go.
Here are some great conversation starters about bravery and courage. As the media speaks daily of the problems of bullying, courage to stand up for yourself and others is an issue on everyone’s mind.
(1) Let each family member talk about a time they did something that took courage. Remember, it doesn’t always have to mean physical courage. Does having courage mean you are never afraid?
(2) When we talk about strength, we usually think of physical strength. What does it mean to be strong in other ways?
(3) Some people talk about “strong families.” What makes a strong family? How can you make your family stronger? Does being part of the Jewish religion or community help you be stronger? How and why?
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.