Queen Esther inspires modern women

Purim is almost upon us: a great time to remember Esther — not only for what she did to save her people (us!), but for Jewish women of our own time who currently contribute their varied efforts for our benefits. The hashtag #ShareHerStory highlights Jewish women of many colors from many backgrounds — Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, Sephardi. Here are just a few of them: 

Siona Benjamin, born in India, is a New York artist who combines her actual past and her imagined future in her work, using myths, images and symbols to tell a personal story. 

Rabbi Michelle Dardashti is an associate chaplain at Brown University. Her mother is an American folk singer and her father an Iranian cantor; she calls her Judaism “multicultural, meta-denominational and musical.”

Erika Davis is a yoga instructor, a childbirth educator and a “doula” — a woman who assists other women as they give birth. She is herself a black woman who works to confront racial disparities that often impact other black women during pregnancy and childbirth.

Alma Hernandez serves in the Arizona House of Representatives; she is the first-ever Latina Jewish lawmaker elected to such a position. 

Tarece Johnson is a leader in both the NAACP and Alliance for Black Lives. In addition, she has founded Global Purpose Academy, a school dedicated to providing diversity education.

Rabbi Sandra Lawson, a U.S. Army veteran, formerly served as an investigative researcher for the ADL. Her current work is with Hillel at North Carolina’s Elon University.

SooJi Min-Maranda won the Asian Health Coalition of Illinois’ Outstanding Community Health Advocate Award in 2008, honoring her work in public health. Now she is executive director of ALEPH, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

Tamara Podemski is a multidisciplinary artist, currently making appearances on stage and screen, and in recording studios. She identifies herself as “Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi.”

Sabrina Sojourner calls on the Jewish community — everywhere — to stand united against racism and sexism as well as anti-Semitism, and is now launching her own program to help congregations discuss inclusion. 

Rabbi Mira Rivera earned her title in 2015, when she became the first-ever Filipino American to be ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is co-founder of Harlem Havruta, which she calls “a space for Jews of Color, their allies and their co-conspirators”! 

These “Esthers” are a far cry from those of my girlhood Purim celebrations, when my Boubby the Philosopher once saw a curly-headed little blond girl and couldn’t believe she was Jewish!

Paper flags on skinny wooden sticks are still waved in synagogue processions, but in those “olden days,” we hollowed out apples, stuck them on the pointed ends of our sticks, and some helpful adults put candles into those hollowed-out fruits, and LIT THEM! Surely God was watching over us for many years as we marched around our shul, with never the threat of a fire. But as I look back, I’m sure that all those adults would be cited for child endangerment today!

And there was always a Purim shpiel, some sort of silly playlet put on by us students. My most memorable year was when my five-years-younger sister was a kindergartner making her “debut.” For no reason except that anything goes on Purim, that script was about making a Hanukkah dinner, and little Ruth recited her well-rehearsed lines without a hitch. Fast-forward to the last time I saw my sister before her recent passing. She was barely speaking then; I hoped only for a nod when I asked if she remembered that long-ago shpiel. But instead, I was astonished as she repeated this: “I am the chicken fat, fry in me when hot; watch the golden latkes dancing in the pot!” 

Costumes then were always Biblical/traditional. But years later, I saw a young boy wearing a short black robe, an old-fashioned black kippah, a tallit over his shoulders and tefillin wound around his arm. “Who are you?” I asked. He responded: “A Jew.” I still cry over that…

Leave a Reply