Do you believe in miracles? There are Jews in our community from the former Soviet Union who, from generation to generation, pass down the story of the miracle that happened on Purim 69 years ago.
The winter of 1953 in Russia was cold, dark and ominous -- especially for the Jews. On January 13, the newspaper Pravda announced the discovery of the Doctors’ Plot, an alleged conspiracy by high-ranking Jewish physicians to murder important Kremlin officials. The antisemitic campaign in the press aroused hatred of all Jews.
Many Jews were arrested on false accusations. All over the country, anti-Jewish meetings were held. Jews were dismissed from their jobs; they were insulted on the streets, in shops, and on public transportation. By the end of February, Jews across the country believed in the imminence of pogroms that would kill thousands of our people and exile survivors to concentration camps in the Soviet Far East.
The brutal dictator Joseph Stalin ruled over the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from 1924 to 1953,Millions of his own citizens were murdered during his reign of terror.
Stalin was not a novice when it came to purges and show trials. There is indirect evidence indicating that in March 1953 Stalin intended to put many Jewish doctors on trial (“murderers in white coats”), which would have resulted in their execution. Jewish pogroms would be organized and, subsequently, all Jews would be deported.
In 1953, Purim fell on March 1. On that day, Stalin, a modern-day Haman, had a stroke. Soon thereafter, he died. At the time of his death, the noose had already been wrapped around the neck of Soviet Jewry. And so, in 1953 the story of Purim once again came to life, as the death of Mordechai (the Jews) was replaced with the death of Haman (Stalin). An entire generation of Soviet Jews came to believe that they were saved by Stalin’s sudden stroke.
Bravery is central to the Purim story -- consider Queen Esther, who exhibited immense courage by standing up for what she believed in. While she initially concealed her Jewish identity, when she discovered that the survival of her people—the Jewish people—was at stake, she chose to speak up and reveal her identity.
At times throughout history, in different places around the world, it has been hard to be openly Jewish. Nonetheless, in the former Soviet Union in March 1953, in spite of the difficult circumstances, Jews secretly celebrated Purim.
The story of Purim reminds us to always be proud of our Jewish identity. The moral of the Purim story is this: When a moment of truth arrives, it is incumbent upon us to summon our strength of heart and act in the right way, the humane way.
The New American Acculturation Program connects and educates Jews from the former Soviet Union, helping them to learn more about American and Jewish history and traditions, and strengthening their Jewish identity. For more information, including sponsorships of specific program, contact Yelena Gerovich at (203) 387-2424 x321, or email firstname.lastname@example.org