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