Tag Archives: purim

Finding Your Inner Esther

By Jordana Gilman

Esther does not assume her post as Queen of the Persian Empire with a passion or expectation for activism. She does her own thing in the harem, listens to the advice of her “uncle” Mordecai, pleases King Ahasuerus, asks for little, and follows directions. Unlike her predecessor Vashti, Esther seems content with a degree of passivity in her role.

Even when it is her time to step up and save the Jewish people living in the 127 provinces of the empire, ranging from India to Ethiopia, Esther devises a plan to first please the king with banquets before requesting anything of him. When Esther finally speaks up on behalf of her people, the king is eager to reverse the decree and punish the man responsible.

Perhaps the impetus for Esther’s bravery comes from Mordecai’s advice to her, “For if you will remain silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source, but you and the house of your father will be lost. And who knows if it is not for just such a time that you reached this royal position” (Esther 4:14). Queen Esther breaks her silence to save herself as well as her fellow Jews.

Mordecai scares Esther into taking action, but he also reminds her that she is in the right place at the right time to make a difference for herself and for her community.

The story of Purim tells a grand tale of the Jews’ survival, but it is also a step-by-step guide to advocacy.

Step 1: Keep your friends close. Mordecai and Esther are the winning team in Shushan, but neither could do it without the help of the other. Foster your friendships and gather a circle of champions around you who will support you, advise you, inspire you, and give you a kick in the right direction when the time comes.

Step 2: Choose your battles. Find your inner Esther and be agreeable. Avoid extraneous demands. Use humor to diffuse tension instead of exacerbating it. Give people the benefit of the doubt if they misspeak or are unaware of their privilege. Allow thoughtless offensive remarks to be an opportunity for education. Make people want to help you when it’s really time for a fight.

Step 3: Make the ask. It can be difficult to address people of authority with a request. Whether you are speaking on behalf of yourself, your community, or both, feel entitled to ask for something directly (especially if you’ve done a good job with steps 1 and 2!). While Esther addresses the king humbly, she doesn’t beat around the bush when she asks for her life and the lives of her people to be spared. The clarity of her request makes it even easier for the king to grant it. A strong “ask” can mean the difference between getting what you want and getting what someone else feels like giving you.

And who knows? Perhaps you have reached your position for just such a time as this.

Jordana Gilman Portrait
Jordana Gilman graduated Cornell University this January and will be attending SUNY Upstate Medical University in the fall.

Esther, My Heroine

By Sue Tomchin, Editor, Jewish Woman magazine

As a child I remember always wanting to dress as Queen Esther for Purim. She had all the attributes that make today’s Disney princesses eye candy for seven year olds—she was beautiful and wore glamorous gowns and a glittering crown (which I could easily make out of a piece of cardboard and aluminum foil). Today what I’m looking for in a heroine is much more than a pretty face. What I’ve come to see in Esther, though, is a woman, not unlike the rest of us, struggling to navigate a difficult environment. Her tendency, like for many women, would be to keep quiet, not threaten the status quo. But as her cousin Mordechai tells her, keeping quiet, staying in the same place, isn’t an option. That’s true of us all. By staying in one place we lose ground. We have to step up, claim our space in the world, and speak truth to power. Esther does that with amazing political savvy. She takes a risk by going to talk to the King, without being summoned, but prepares for this step, both spiritually and by looking her best. (This is something most of us learn before going to our first job interview or professional meeting—be mentally prepared and dress the part.) Then, it really gets interesting and her political acumen shines. Once the king has lowered his scepter to welcome her, he asks her why she is there. She refrains from answering, biding her time, until she has King Ahasueras eager for her answer and Haman, the most powerful man in the kingdom, primed for a fall. Then she finally answers. We know what happens next—Haman is discredited and the Jews of Persia are saved. More than just a pretty face, Esther understands her power and uses it wisely and well.

The story of Purim has much more to say about power and relationships. To explore further, download a copy of JWI’s program Rethinking Purim—Women, Relationships and Jewish Texts.

Rethinking Purim: Women, Relationships & Jewish Texts

JWI has a new resource for Purim, the first in a series of study guides related to Women, Relationships and Jewish Text. Rethinking Purim is designed to spark new conversations about relationships by offering a fresh look at old texts. The guide is designed for use in both formal and informal settings including synagogues, study groups, book clubs, or simply by a group of friends getting together.

Rethinking Purim takes a thematic approach to the story of Purim, and uses text of the megillah, midrash, and modern commentary to encourage conversations about relationships. Each section of the guide discusses a characteristic of healthy relationships: developing a voice of one’s own; cultivating the conscious use of self; and striving for parity.

This guide combines a respectful reading of classic texts with provocative and perceptive insights, questions and ideas that can help shape healthier relationships. It can help raise awareness of the ways in which issues of gender and power intersect with and can be addressed through such Jewish values as k’vod ha-briot (respect for the dignity and integrity of each person) and kedusha (sanctification), among others.

The Women, Relationships and Jewish Text guides are a project of JWI’s Clergy Task Force on Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community, a group of prominent clergy committed to promoting Jewish responses and resources that end violence against women. The guide has been distributed by national Jewish organizations, and has received a positive response across denominations. It is available for free download at www.jwi.org/purim.