The early spring holidays, Purim and Passover, are the epitome, and undoubtedly the inspiration, of that old saw: “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” The two holidays celebrate victory over different approaches to destroying the Jews.

The Purim story represents ruthless genocidal hatred in its purest form. Haman is prepared to pay for the privilege of massacring a people (“he tried to murder all the Jews, though they were not to blame, sir”), on the flimsiest of pretenses: a single Jew refused to render him the obeisance he desired. Equally terrible, the king – such an empty suit that Haman literally seeks to usurp his station by wearing his clothes – authorizes Haman to exterminate the Jews, free of charge. The apathetic apparatchik is as dangerous as the murderous maniac. When the addled Ahasuerus does ultimately turn on Haman, it is not for recognition of the of the evil he attempted, but purely personal purposes. And even then, the king refuses to save the Jews by, you know, actually saving the Jews; rather, he saves the Jews by simply letting them fight for themselves without outside interference.

The Passover story reflects a different model of antisemitism. The Pharaoh’s goal is not extermination; the Pharaoh wants to derive benefit from the Jews in his power. At the same time, he wants to restrict their religious practice (recall that Moses’ initial request of the Pharaoh is only to allow the Hebrews a few days to worship in the desert), and he doesn’t mind killing a significant proportion of them – infants, no less – to keep them in his control. Once the Ten Plagues convince the Pharaoh that he can’t keep them as slaves, however, the Pharaoh then leads his chariots out with the apparent intention of slaughtering the Hebrews, a self-defeating effort which ends with his army drowned in the sea.

In another corner of the calendar, we encounter yet another model of antisemitism in the holiday of Chanukah (N.B. to settle all debate, the correct spelling is חֲנֻכָּה). The Greeks were not explicitly interested in killing Jews, but they did want to erase Judaism and turn Jews into Hebrew-accented Greeks. If they had succeeded, there would be people alive today descended from the Jews of that era, but they would not particularly know or care. There would be no Christianity or Islam in the world, which ironically would likely mean the learning and culture of Ancient Greece would be largely forgotten (for centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, it was Muslims who studied and preserved Greek philosophy and mathematics), and the last millennium and more of human history, dominated by Christians, Muslims, and their wars between and among one another, would be radically different in completely unknowable ways.

It is a strange new feeling to celebrate these holidays of Jewish survival against genocidal antisemitism in the midst of a war, more so a war that was instigated by a rampage of murder, rape, and kidnapping, and even more so a war in which the State of Israel stands – inaccurately – accused of genocide. The inversion of truth in the discourse about this war is astounding. There are Israeli Arab citizens, both Muslim and Christian, about 2,000,000 or roughly 20% of the Israeli populace; there are zero Jewish citizens of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas-stan in Gaza, the Arab parties to the conflict have never contemplated peacefully absorbing Jewish residents as citizens in their areas of control as part of a solution to the conflict (though they expect Israel to absorb millions of Arab “refugees”), and the “moderate’ Palestinian Authority prescribes the death penalty for Arabs who peacefully sell land to Jews. So which side is accused of ethnic cleansing?

The population of Palestinian areas captured by Israel in 1967 was around 1.3 million. Today, the Palestinian population in situ approaches 5 million, with 2 million in Gaza alone (1967 population: fewer than 400,000). On the other hand, Hamas’ founding charter “aspires to the realization of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take” that “Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” (Translation from the Avalon Project of Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Law Library.) Beyond mere aspiration, in just one day of running free in a small sliver of Israeli territory, Hamas operatives murdered 1200 Israelis (and others), over 80% of them civilians, and kidnapped 253 Israelis (and others), but not before raping, torturing, and mutilating many of them. In other words, Palestinians under nearly sixty years of Israeli occupation have grown to five times their numbers; Israelis under one day of Palestinian occupation in parts of the Gaza Envelope (an area of roughly 70,000 residents in total) suffered the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust, deadlier than any day in Gaza during the war, and probably in human history. Which side would you suppose is on trial for genocide?

There are analogs to be drawn from the spring holidays to the current state of affairs. Just as the cruel and stubborn choices of the Pharaoh were responsible for the death and destruction in Egypt and at the sea, the cruel and stubborn choices of Hamas are responsible for the death and destruction of this war. Just as in the days of Mordechai and Esther, all our Israeli cousins ask from the world is to be allowed to fight for their own lives without outside interference.

Of course, those early spring holidays focused largely on simple survival also start a literal count-up to the late spring holiday of Shavuot, the anniversary of Revelation at Sinai. For our ancestors, it was less than two months from an enslaved rabble to a kingdom of priests and a holy people. I don’t entirely agree, but many historian today regard the Yom Kippur War as a necessary precursor and condition-setter for the peace with Egypt in 1979. I am not remotely a Pollyanna about this, but it is not beyond hope that the horror of the October 7th massacre, and the brutality of the Gaza war, will in time help bring forward leaders on both sides of the conflict (but let’s be honest, the miracle would be on the Palestinian side) who can see compromises for the sake of peace as a better way forward for their people than the fantasy of total victory in the next war, or the next, or the next after that. And isn’t the anticipation of new life and new light after bleak winter what spring is all about?