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Today in Jewish History – Adar 14

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In 355 BCE, the Jews celebrated their successful defeat of Haman’s anti-Semitic mobs, an event we commemorate today with the Purim holiday.We read the Megillah (Scroll of Esther), dress up in costumes, and celebrate how the Jews of Persia narrowly escaped annihilation, thanks to the bravery of Esther and Mordechai. In Shushan, the Persian capital, however, the battle lasted one additional day and Purim was not celebrated until the 15th of Adar. Thus today in Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated one day later than the rest of the world.

Adar 14 is also the day in 1912 that Henrietta Szold founded Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization. In 1892, even before Herzl’s activities, Szold and her father formed the first Zionist society in Baltimore, and Hadassah was her idea to mobilize American Jewish women in support of Israel. In 1920, Szold made aliyah, wher she supervised the opening of Hadassah medical units, playgrounds and public health programs. At age 73, Szold, as head of the Youth Aliyah Department, traveled to Germany where she worked to save Jewish youth destined for Hitler’s ovens. Szold is buried in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. Today Hadassah operates the largest hospital in Jerusalem, and its 300,000 members make it one of the largest women’s organizations in the world.

Also on this day, in 1942, in the town of Zdunska Wola in Nazi-occupied Poland, 10 Jews were hanged by Hitler’s SS, in a sadistic parody of events in the Book of Esther. To add to this debacle, the Gestapo ordered all Jews out of their homes in order to witness the hangings. On Purim day the following year, 1943, there was another ‘Purim massacre’ in the Polish town of Piotrkow, where 10 Jews were executed. Hitler harbored a venomous hatred for the holiday of Purim: When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, he banned the reading of the Book of Esther, an ordered that all synagogues be closed and barred on Purim day. “Unless Germany is victorious,” he proclaimed, “Jewry could then celebrate the destruction of Europe by a second triumphant Purim Festival.” Incredibly, when Nazi officer Julius Streicher ascended the gallows to be hanged at Nuremberg, he shouted, “Purimfest 1946.”

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