Just in time for Purim, the world is turning on its head. But not in the exuberant way we like to experience as we mark the ancient victory of the Jews in Persia over our would-be destroyers. It's hard to muster the annual joy when we are witnessing an unfathomable avalanche of present-day death and destruction.
In the past week alone, the massive devastation in Japan has joined with the brutal murders of one young Israeli family for a combination of events too horrific to comprehend.
As is true in much of life, a good deal of what is happening is beyond our control, especially when it comes to natural disasters like the earthquake and tsunami that swept through the Pacific with such cataclysmic force.
But the heroes of the Purim story — which we will read this weekend — show us that how we respond can make a difference. As the story goes, Queen Esther, with prodding from her Uncle Mordechai, overcame her fear of revealing her Jewishness to the king and devised a clever scheme to save the Jews from the death decree engineered by the evil Haman.
Sometimes, the proper mix of planning, wit and diplomacy can avert catastrophe. Other times, horrific events happen, and they require empathy, fortitude and resolve to try to prevent further ruin.
In the case of Japan, no amount of preparation proved enough. After its last earthquake, new building codes were aimed at ensuring that they withstand the jolts, but they provided no barrier to the rushing wall of water and nuclear fallout.
In the face of such calamity, the world responded with acts of compassion and assistance. Israel and the Jewish community, too, rightly and rapidly launched aid efforts.
In Israel, the terrorist attack against the Fogel family — parents and three sleeping children, one just an infant, were killed — affected far fewer people, but felt closer to home.
It is essential that the perpetrators of this terrorism be found and prosecuted. The gruesome act further demonstrates the need for increased vigilance by Israeli security. The Israeli interception of an Egyptian-bound ship the military said was smuggling missiles and weapons only reinforces that need. But it's justice and vigilance — not revenge — that is required.
In the past, Purim marked the end of a period of grave threat to the Jewish state, when Iraqi Scuds in 1991 during the first Gulf war had rained down for weeks, sending Israelis running for their gas masks and their homemade shelters. Fear and destruction dramatically turned to joy.
As we celebrate Purim this year, albeit with a heavier heart, let's pray that the upside-down turns right-side-up as we continue to respond to the tragedies, both natural and human-made, that plague our world.