OK, here’s one for you.
What does the ancient city of Shushan, Persia have in common with Entebbe, Uganda?
The answer is that both were places where the unbelievable became real; where the impossible became possible; where right beat wrong; where evil was vanquished and the innocent saved.
Let’s start with the story most of us know. In 1976, an Air France plane was hijacked. The plan was en route from Israel to France, with a stop-over in Athens. On board, were just under 250 passengers. The plane was taken to Entebbe, Uganda where the true nature of the terrorists manifested itself. A Nazi-like separation was instigated; the non-Jewish passengers released. In a show of true heroism, the non-Jewish Air France crew members chose to stay with the Jewish and Israeli passengers.
One hundred and five people remained for days in horrendous conditions, threatened and terrified and then, on July 4, 1976, as the United States was celebrating its 200th birthday, Israel dared and accomplished the miraculous. The Israeli air force flew in, rescued almost all of the hostages, and took out the terrorists.
It was an amazing feat – people would have said impossible, if the Israeli forces hadn’t accomplished it. The details were incredible – the long flight, the refueling, taking a black Mercedes (which had been the right model, but white, and so the Israelis painted it) to make it appear that the Ugandan president was coming to visit the hostages and terrorists, as he had in the past.
The thing about Entebbe was that it was a man-made miracle…delivered by God. Or, maybe it was God-given miracle…implemented by our soldiers. It took place in Entebbe, Uganda, but it was something very connected to the Jewish people and Israel. It was, in the truest sense, a victory of good over evil, an unexpected triumph against all odds. I remember thinking at the time that Hollywood couldn’t have written it better. No writer could make up such an incredible story.
Shushan, Persia, was an ancient kingdom ruled by a selfish king who cared more for his personal pleasure than all else. He killed his wife because she embarrassed him when she refused to undress and dance before his aides, and then sought to replace her with another, picked out seemingly randomly. The king was easily swayed by an evil man named Haman.
Like the Arabs that hijacked the plane to Entebbe, Haman had an intense hatred of Jews. Like the terrorists, he singled out the Jewish people and convinced the stupid king to sign an edict dictating that all the Jews of the kingdom be executed on a specific date. In a time and place where the king’s rule was absolute, this was indeed the very death sentence it seemed to be. As clear and seemingly pre-ordained final solution as could be.
The hero, or perhaps I should say heroine, of the story of Shushan, was a beautiful woman named Esther. The king chose her after he killed his first wife. She was, though few knew it, a Jew. Her uncle Mordechai heard the plan to have the Jews killed and he and Esther worked to expose it.
The long and short of the story is that they succeeded. Haman and his evil sons were killed; the Jews were saved. On the very tree that Haman had wanted to hang Mordechai, Haman himself was hanged. There was incredible justice in this, incredible triumph. It is a story that is centuries old, even longer, and yet still excites the listener as we hear it read twice each year on the joyous holiday of Purim, which we have just celebrated.
So – Shushan and Entebbe have in common the simple triumph of good over evil. No where in the Megillat Esther (the book we read each Purim), is the name of God used, and yet, like Entebbe, God was in all of the details, there every moment – in Uganda, and in Persia.
I thought about these two places, these two impossible odds. An impossible flight over long distances, over hostile countries, to land five planes in the middle of the night, and sweep in and rescue more than 100 hostages in a “surprise” raid, is astounding. To overcome a king’s written edict and save a people condemned to die, is amazing.
Elie wasn’t home for Purim. He was on a base, far up north. At night, someone came out to the field where they are camped and read the story of Purim to the soldiers. In the morning, many of the soldiers, including Elie, hiked back to the base to hear the story read again.
This is why we have an army – to fly to Entebbe, to protect against the Hamans of our generation. These are the stories that remind us of why we are here, Who protects us, and how good will triumph over evil and save the day.
Happy Purim, Elie.