March is the month of Purim, a holiday that fits well with the comic “template” for most Jewish holidays: “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.” Beneath the humor lies the reality that the history of the Jewish people, in large part, is one of persecution, displacement and survival. I was reminded of this recently on a trip to England when we came across a simple stone marker near Oxford University. It read as follows:
Beneath this garden lies a medieval cemetery. Around 1190 the Jews of Oxford purchased a water meadow outside the city walls to establish a burial ground. In 1231 that land… was appropriated by a hospital and a small section of wasteland, where this memorial lies, was given to the Jews for a new cemetery. An ancient footpath linked this cemetery with the medieval quarter along Great Jewry Street… For over 800 years this path has been called the ‘Deadman’s Walk’, a name that bears silent witness to a community that contributed to the growth of this City and early University throughout the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1290 all the Jews were expelled from England by King Edward I. They were not permitted to return for over 350 years. May their memory be blessed.
As we celebrate Purim, and other Jewish holidays, we should give thought to those whose survival made the story, and the future, possible. Let’s feast in their memory, and may that memory be blessed.