JERUSALEM, Israel -- Some things never change.
The Festival of Purim, commemorated by Jews every year, tells the story of an attempt thousands of years ago to annihilate the Jews. Sound familiar?
The story behind Purim is found in the Book of Esther in the Bible, which records how God used a man named Mordechai and his niece, Esther, married to the Persian King Ahasuerus, to thwart a plan to kill every Jew -- from the youngest to the oldest -- scattered throughout the 127 provinces of the Persian Empire.
The Bible mandates that Jews celebrate what took place throughout their generations in the country known today as Iran.
"So they called these days Purim, after the name Pur. Therefore, because of all the words of this letter, what they had seen concerning this matter, and what had happened to them, the Jews established and imposed it upon themselves and their descendants and all who would join them, that without fail they should celebrate these two days every year, according to the written instructions and according to the prescribed time, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city, that these days of Purim should not fail to be observed among the Jews, and that the memory of them should not perish among their descendants." (Esther 9:26-28)
This year, that centuries-old festival begins at sundown Saturday when the Sabbath ends.
Walking the streets of Israeli cities and towns this week, it quickly becomes evident that Purim is almost here. Costumed children skip along the sidewalks. Adults in funny hats and wigs smile their way around the streets.
But a rocket barrage by Gaza-based jihadists sent residents of the South running for cover Wednesday evening, as air raid sirens wailed across the region. Kids and their parents waited out the 60+ rocket barrage in bomb shelters. The following morning, they were back in class, smiling and getting ready to celebrate the holiday.
Throughout the centuries, the Book of Esther reminds Jewish kids -- and adults -- that the enemies of Israel have been around a long time, but with God's help, they can be defeated.
Just last week, Israeli naval commandos intercepted a huge shipment of Iranian-made long-range rockets, mortar shells and ammunition en route to Islamists in the Gaza Strip. It served as a reminder that Israel's enemies don't give up easily and that, in part, is what keeps the story of Purim alive from year to year.
In ancient Persia, now modern-day Iran, it was Haman, the king's chancellor, who purposed to annihilate the Jews and wound up hanging from the gallows he'd built for Mordechai. There have been many "Hamans" since then, each one infused with the same diabolical hatred we call anti-Semitism.
From the ashes of Hitler's gas chambers, a modern, flourishing country has arisen, populated by people determined to live and raise their families in the Jewish state.
The Bible says "a merry heart does good like a medicine" and that's what the Festival of Purim is all about -- a joyful celebration that saw a diabolical plan fall back on the head of its perpetrator. The Jews triumphed over their enemies then and many times since.
God's plan for His covenant people hasn't changed and never will. The re-gathering of the Jewish people to their biblical land continues and no plan of the enemy, however fierce, will thwart His purposes.
Here, God says through the prophet Jeremiah, "They will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them."
For millions of Israelis, that's reason enough to celebrate!