Headstones were toppled at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery, also known as the Stone Road Cemetery, in Rochester, N.Y. Photo courtesy of News 10 NBC WHEC

No Esther in sight


The role of Achashverosh, the vain king who prefers to drink from goblets of gold, who is ready to turn over a nation to a minister who offers ten thousand talents of silver, is too easily filled this year’s Purim. Haman and Bannon practically rhyme. It’s a facile elision I’m not sure I agree with, but it comes naturally. But where is our Esther, and where is our Mordechai? 

I don’t think people are still pinning their hopes on Ivanka and Jared. They couldn’t do anything to stop the erasure of Jews from the White House statement about the Holocaust. And Trump still denounced the Orthodox Jewish reporter who pitched him that softball question so he could denounce anti-Semitism.

It was only after the first Jewish cemetery was vandalized that Trump finally had something to say about the subject. That gave Jews on the right a glimmer of hope that the Haman and Achashverosh shoes wouldn’t fit. Was Ivanka working behind the scenes?

But after more Jewish cemeteries were vandalized, Trump shared another brilliant insight. He thinks it’s possible that anti-Trump people might be knocking down Jewish tombstones in order to make him look bad. Of course, David Duke said it first – not that Trump notices or cares where he gets his ideas from. That’s right up Achashverosh’s alley: everything bad happens to him; his is never the flaw or fault that allows it.

If there’s one thing Trump loves to talk about, it’s not crimes of hate but the crime rate. Despite Trump’s fantabulism, it’s increasing across the U.S. for real in just one way, hate crime. But he won’t talk about the seven African American transgender women who were murdered. Or give an ounce of reflection to how his rhetoric against immigrants might have played a role when an Indian engineer was murdered by a crazy white man who screamed “Get out of my country!” 

But that’s old news. Like Peter denied Jesus (l’havdil – not to morally compare them), Trump and his entourage won’t talk about how the perpetrators could be following the lead of his rhetoric. Every day we keep learning in new ways that Trump does not have the capacity or desire to understand what’s going on, or to take responsibility, the way we would want a president to do in order to lead the nation.

But if Trump doesn’t get it that cemetery vandalizers are undoubtedly anti-Semitic, how could his two closest Jews, Ivanka and Jared, not? It’s inconceivable that neither of them understands what kind of a person you have to be to knock down Jewish tombstones.

Any or all of these three things must be true: Jared and Ivanka are too cowed by Bannon to do anything, or they don’t have the power to change Trump’s course when Bannon is pushing him, or they are willing to let it slide as long as Jared gets what he wants for Israel.

I would guess number three, but whichever it might be, it means neither of them is prepared to be Esther. Not that I wouldn’t like to see Jared in a diadem (on Ivanka it would be redundant), but I don’t think the most beautiful crown will make either one a queen.

The bottom line is that with all that is happening, many right-wing elements in the Jewish community, like Jared, are willing to trade our safety here for the sake of letting Israel do whatever it wants as it trades Palestinian lives and land to build more settlements.

It would be as if Esther were to go to Achashverosh and beg to spare only the lives of a particular Jewish sect in the holy land, while letting Haman carry out his plot against all the other Jews throughout Persia’s empire.

Their bet seems to be that it will work out in the grim end, that Israel and the U.S. don’t need democracy as much as they need more control. They may also be betting that stateside Jews will come out with our privilege intact after everything goes down – that we will get to stay “white,” and not get grouped with Muslims and Latinos. (Never mind that Jews are all races, or that Sephardim may look like Arabs.)

That can only happen if we willingly separate our lives from the lives of Muslims and immigrants and Latinos and Black people and queer people. And maybe some American Jews could have done that, since we have almost forgotten that not too long ago, Jews were not considered white, and that our essential identity was one of refugees. But the world has been conspiring to remind us. 

Trump wants us to believe that we will stay white no matter what happens, as if his opinion will matter, while the cemetery destroyers desperately want us to to know that we never were white. Whoever is wrong, when pushing comes to shoving, I don’t think we will make it through unscathed.

So far, the most extreme extremists in the U.S., the ones who target Muslims and Jews equally, are outside the halls of power – it seems like a litmus test for White House staff is that one must be willing to target Muslims but not say anything against Jews. (And maybe there are too many Hanukkah books, after all.) That makes the Trump administration a natural fit with Jews who accept the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But how long will it be before the wall between being anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim falls as other walls go up? How long before anti-Semitism gets to embody its full meaning: hatred of the descendants of Noah’s son Shem, which includes Ishmaelites and Israelites, Jews and Arabs?

Facing his fear that Esther will fail, Mordecai promises that “help will arise from another place” – and then Esther comes through. Maybe it’s not too late for Ivanka. But for now, we need to be looking for help from that other place. Our best prospect may be the compassion that has been passing back and forth from Muslims to Jews and Jews to Muslims, as we each step in to help when the other is attacked. A Muslim community given the key to a synagogue after its mosque was burned down; Muslims raising funds and giving time to repair Jewish headstones.

Mishloach manot and matanot la’evyonim, sending nourishment to one another, exchanging gifts of encouragement to revive our lives, which are being impoverished by these times. Just like the Jews did for each other at the end of the Scroll of Esther.

Not exactly a silver lining, but if the powers that be can’t generate an Esther, then we have to step into those royal shoes. Let’s step lively.

Esther’s choice


During the holiday of Purim, celebrated this week, Jews recount the story of Esther, a secretly Jewish woman who becomes queen, and the choices she makes to save her people. Esther’s actions were aimed at gaining acceptance for a minority religion that was reviled, and preventing the murder of its members. Even today, the echoes of Esther’s story are powerful and enduring. But she might be surprised to learn how the concept of religious freedom is being used now—not to protect minority religious practice or combat religious intolerance, but to give special exceptions from laws designed to prevent intolerance or provide needed services to all people.

Indeed, this year, on the day Purim begins, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on an important case relating to reproductive health access, in particular contraceptive coverage. Zubik v. Burwell considers whether religiously affiliated organizations can successfully claim that their religious expression rights would be violated if they filled out a government form. The form in question is designed to accommodate the organizations’ objections to providing their employees with coverage for contraception, which is a requirement of the Affordable Care Act. The petitioners in the seven consolidated cases object to providing contraceptive coverage, and argue in Zubik that filling out the form is in itself unduly burdensome on their religious practices, because providing the information triggers the coverage for their employees to be provided by someone else. Their logic is like that of a conscientious objector in a war refusing to tell the government she will not serve, because if she does, that means the government will send someone in her place. Having to register the objection in some way may be a burden, but arguably only logistically, not in a moral or religious sense.

My organization, Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), long has been committed to supporting bold choices, even ones that don’t free an entire people. JCPA strongly supports a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions, and has opposed efforts to deny access to reproductive rights, contraception, and family planning services.  In the Zubik case, JCPA joined with the AJC, Union for Reform Judaism, and Central Conference of American Rabbis in an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief explaining why the accommodation does not impose a substantial burden on the petitioners’ exercise of religion.  In 2014, JCPA participated in a brief on the predecessor to this case, Hobby Lobby, also with AJC. Though these briefs represent the broad consensus view in the Jewish community, some of JCPA's member agencies, including the Orthodox Union, have not taken a position on the central issue in these cases. JCPA has been involved in dozens of civil rights cases, including serving as a plaintiff in a seminal school prayer case, Engel v. Vitale. JCPA is concerned that access to medical care coverage for essential health needs could be curtailed if the Court does not rule favorably in the Zubik case.

Equally important, this case is part of an ongoing and troubling trend in which claims of religious freedom are being wielded as trump cards to allow discrimination or deny other people’s rights. For example, some states have passed laws in the name of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that go far beyond the federal law’s initial charge. Some of these laws give protections to businesses that refuse to serve certain patrons, claiming providing services to these individuals violates their religious beliefs. This is a use of religious freedom that is disingenuous at best, and venal at worst. As a religious organization, we have a special duty to speak out when religious freedom rights are used as an excuse to abridge the rights of others.

In this case, those rights are women’s rights to contraceptive coverage. Thinking how far we have come from the time of ancient Persia, it is hard to believe that in 2016 women’s choices are still being threatened. But there are bills and policies all the time in Congress and in state legislatures that seek to undo women’s access to reproductive health care. JCPA continues to believe that reproductive health decisions are best made by individuals in consultation with their families, health care professionals, and with whomever else they choose. We respect and affirm the extensive Jewish teaching and tradition on family planning, including access to contraception, and abortion—understanding that a decision to end a pregnancy is a difficult and deeply personal one, and that people do not take these decisions lightly. We trust women to make their own decisions about their reproductive lives; and for women who seek assistance in making difficult reproductive health decisions, we support full and unfettered access to confidential, affordable, and accurate health and medical guidance of whatever kind they desire, whether spiritual, religious, or secular.

Many women who have made serious reproductive health decisions, such as terminating a pregnancy, don’t discuss them, even though those decisions may have been significant in their lives. Esther also chose to keep her Jewishness secret for a while, but eventually revealed it and convinced King Ahasuerus to stop vilifying, and to spare the lives of, her people. We do need to be reminded every year: It is, unfortunately, still time to speak up for women, battle intolerance, and affirm people’s ability to make their own decisions and be treated with respect.


Hanna Liebman Dershowitz is an attorney and serves as Director of Legal Affairs and Policy Development for JCPA.

We can stop violence against women and girls today


Last weekend, as I listened to the reading of the Purim Megillah, I was struck by its theme of reversals: The pompous king who decrees that men should have authority in their homes ends up taking orders from his wife; the villain Haman is hanged on the very gallows he erected for the hero Mordecai. 

The reversal that resonated with me most of all was that of Queen Esther: She was a young girl ensconced in the king’s harem — a victim of what we would today call sexual slavery; and yet, with the support of a trusted uncle and adviser, she finds the courage to stand up to the king and save the Jewish people from annihilation.  

While King Ahasuerus’ harem is a thing of the ancient past, sexual abuse and violence against women continue to this day. Around the world, one in three women is likely to be a victim of rape or abuse in her lifetime. Every year, 10 million girls under the age of 18 enter into early and forced marriages. Approximately 6,000 girls every day — around 2 million each year — fall victim to female genital cutting. 

But today, as in Esther’s time, reversals are possible. Just before Purim, my congregation held an event to learn what we can do to stop violence against women in the developing world. We watched a video about a Nicaraguan woman named Teresa, who is living proof that with support, women can overcome devastating circumstances and emerge confident and powerful. 

At 19, Teresa married an older man whom she quickly realized was violent. For the next 30 years, he raped and abused her. He molested all three of their daughters, waking them up night after night to rape them. She was terrified of what might happen if she spoke out.  She was afraid he would kill her and, even if he didn’t, she couldn’t imagine how she and her children would survive. She was financially dependent on her husband; their home and land were registered in his name. Certain she had no other options, Teresa stayed in this abusive relationship for decades. 

On the screen, we watched Teresa tell her story in Spanish with English subtitles. Not everyone in the audience could see the translation, so I stood up and read her story aloud. Halfway through, tears welled up and I began to cry. This story of abuse and sexual slavery wasn’t a parody like the Purim story — it was a real-life story, going on in our world. 

But just when it seemed that such suffering could never be overcome, Teresa began to tell us of her inspirational reversal of fate. Like Esther, Teresa found a way to take control of her life. She heard on the radio about an organization called the Association of Entrepreneurial Women of Waslala (AMEWAS), a Nicaraguan grass-roots group that seeks to reduce violence against women by educating them about their rights. She took her children to the AMEWAS shelter and, with their help, pressed charges against her husband. In 2011, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and AMEWAS helped transfer the title of their property to Teresa. Today, she and her daughters live on their land and earn a living from what they grow, free from violence and fear.

Millions of women around the world are suffering from violence like this — but it can be reversed, and it is within our power to help. This is why I am joining American Jewish World Service’s (AJWS) “We Believe” campaign to advocate for passage of the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), a piece of legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last year. IVAWA would make sure that U.S. aid dollars are allocated to local groups such as AMEWAS. It would ensure that anti-violence programs also focus on increasing access to economic opportunities — including credit and property rights — so that women are not forced to stay in abusive situations because they have no way to earn a living on their own. Lastly, IVAWA would put the full force of the U.S. Department of State behind women like Teresa worldwide, by making it a top U.S. diplomatic priority to stop violence against women and girls.

 “And who knows,” Mordecai tells Esther in the Megillah, urging her to intervene on behalf of her people, “maybe it is exactly for this very moment that you are here in this place.” If we recognize that we are in our position exactly because there is something we can do to bring a little bit of redemption for people who are suffering — anything is possible. 

 We can all do something to end violence against women and girls today by asking our members of Congress to support IVAWA. We can call, e-mail, tweet and visit our representatives to tell them that we in the Jewish community care about this issue and want them to take action. 

By speaking out, we can help stop the epidemic of violence against women and girls, enabling women like Teresa to experience dramatic reversals in their lives. The potential to rise up and vanquish injustice need not remain in the realm of stories like the Book of Esther. The vulnerable can become powerful in our society today. 

American Jewish World Service launched the “We Believe” campaign to urge the U.S. government to take action to end violence against women and girls, stop early and forced marriage, and end hate crimes against LGBT people. Learn more at webelieve.ajws.org .

The International Violence Against Women Act of 2013 (IVAWA) was introduced in November 2013 by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D – Ill.). It’s the fourth time a version of this bill has been introduced since 2007. For more information, visit the Web site of Futures Without Violence, an advocacy group that has been pushing this legislation from the beginning. 


Rabbi Laura Geller is a senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

Celebrate Queen Esther with chocolate


Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim tale, was quite a woman. Not only did she outwit the evil Haman and save the entire Jewish population of Persia, she did it all as a vegetarian. According to tradition, when she moved into the palace, she became quite a party girl but limited her diet to seeds, vegetables, fruits, nuts and, of course, chocolate. 

So, this year, to celebrate her special diet, I am planning to treat my family to a special array of chocolate Purim desserts. The custom of gift-giving to friends during the holiday is referred to as mishloach manot, and my favorite gift when we are invited for dinner to the home of friends is to bring a ribbon-wrapped box filled with homemade chocolates. 

There are plenty of other treats to try: I am sharing my recipe here for Chocolate-Dipped Oatmeal Cookie Fruit and Nut Bars and Chocolate-Covered Halvah Truffles.

And don’t forget hamantaschen, the traditional Purim pastry. The first recipe I remember for these came from my mother. Instead of making them with the yeast-based pastry that is found in most Jewish bakeries, she used cookie dough filled with poppy seed and prune preserves.

Over the years I have developed my own hamantaschen pastries. My favorite is adding chocolate and poppy seeds to the dough and stuffing them with a mixture of chocolate and chopped nuts. 

Just when your guests think all the desserts are on the table, surprise them with scoops of Chocolate Sorbet. Then you can nosh some hamantaschen! 

CHOCOLATE-DIPPED OATMEAL COOKIE FRUIT AND NUT BARS

  • Oatmeal Cookie Dough (recipe follows)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole almonds, toasted
  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted
  • 1 cup diced dry cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups diced dry apricots
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup cream, warmed
  • 1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate pieces

Prepare the Oatmeal Cookie Dough; bake as directed and set aside.

Mix the nuts and dried fruits in a bowl. Spread the mixture evenly over the baked cookie dough.

Combine sugar and water in a heavy pot; cook over medium heat, stirring gently, until light brown. Remove from heat; add the cream, stirring constantly. Transfer to a large measuring cup and pour over dried fruit and nuts in baked cookie dough. Set aside to cool, then cut into bars of desired size. (See yields below.)

Melt chocolate in a double boiler over gently simmering water or in a microwave. With your fingertips, dip one end of each bar into melted chocolate, leaving the nuts and fruit showing and place on a wax paper-lined platter. Refrigerate until chocolate is set. 

Makes 54 bars, 2 by 2 inches each; or 108 bars, 1 by 2 inches each.

OATMEAL COOKIE DOUGH

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter or margarine
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla 
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats (do not use instant oatmeal)
  • 1 1/4 cups toasted chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the sugars and butter. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping sides of bowl after each one. 

In a bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add flour mixture to butter-sugar mixture in two to three additions, beating until just combined. Add oats in two or three additions, stirring until just combined. Stir in pecans.

Roll dough into a ball, flatten with hands, and spread evenly onto a greased, rimmed 12-by-18-inch baking sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. 

CHOCOLATE-COVERED HALVAH TRUFFLES


Chocolate-dipped oatmeal cookie fruit and nut bars and chocolate-covered halvah truffles.

  • 1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened grated coconut
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 pound semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces

In a mixing bowl, stir together the tahini and honey. In a food processor, combine the coconut, wheat germ and sunflower seeds; process until finely chopped. Stir coconut mixture, cocoa and cinnamon into tahini-honey mixture until well-blended and firm. Shape mixture by hand into l-inch balls.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler over gently simmering water. With your hands, dip each halvah ball into the melted chocolate; place on waxed paper-lined plate. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set. 

Makes 30 (1-inch) balls.

CHOCOLATE POPPY-SEED HAMANTASCHEN

  • Chocolate Filling (recipe follows)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup finely ground almonds
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine
  • 3 tablespoons hot water
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa 
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 egg white

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Prepare Chocolate Filling; set aside.

In bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, ground almonds, poppy seeds, baking powder, salt and sugar. Blend in butter until mixture resembles very fine crumbs.

Combine water and cocoa in a small bowl; beat in the whole egg. Add to flour mixture, beating until mixture begins to form dough. Do not overmix. 

Transfer to floured board and shape into a ball. Chill 30 minutes for easier handling. 

Divide dough into six portions. Flatten each with the palms of your hands; roll out 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 3 1/2-inch rounds with scalloped cookie cutter. 

Place 1 teaspoon Chocolate Filling in the center of each round. Fold edges of dough toward center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of filling visible in the center. Pinch edges to seal.

Place on a lightly greased foil- or Silpat-lined baking sheet and brush with lightly beaten egg white. Bake until firm, about 30 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool. 

Makes 6 to 7 dozen.

CHOCOLATE FILLING

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk, cream or coffee
  • 1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts

Combine all filling ingredients in a bowl; blend thoroughly. 

Makes about 2 1/4 cups.

CHOCOLATE SORBET

  • 3 cups unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
  • 1 cup port or Concord grape wine

Combine cocoa and sugar in a large, heavy saucepan. Add water, a little at a time, in a thin stream, mixing with wire whisk until well blended and smooth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until thick. Stir in melted chocolate and port. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 4 minutes, or until thick, stirring constantly. Pour into an 8-cup pitcher or bowl and place inside a larger bowl filled with ice and cold water. Stir until cool. Remove bowl from ice water. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Process in an ice cream machine, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the sorbet to a covered container and freeze for at least 1 hour for flavors to mellow. If frozen solid, soften in the refrigerator and beat until smooth and creamy before serving. 

Makes about 2 quarts. 


Judy Zeidler is a food consultant and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her Web site is JudyZeidler.com.

With Esther’s voice, fighting violence against women


On Mar. 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day, a day intended to celebrate the economic and social advances made by women, while at the same time drawing attention to areas that still need action. It is striking that this year the day falls so close to Purim.

The proximity is not lost on us. We remember Vashti, who was killed for disobeying her husband. We celebrate Esther, who spoke out.

Not every woman has the ability to speak. Not every woman has access to education. Not every woman can go about her day without fear of violence.

It is for her that we must now speak.

We know the stories. We know that one in every three women will experience violence at some point in her life. We know that 1 billion women and girls are affected by violence, including rape, domestic violence, acid burning, human trafficking, dowry deaths and so-called honor killings. In times of conflict, rape is often used as a weapon of war.

The terrible consequences of this epidemic of violence rob countries of the contributions and talent of half their populations. Violence takes the lives of millions of women and girls and denies countless others their dignity and their right to live safe, productive lives. No country is immune. Violence crosses all national borders and affects women of all ages, social groups, religions and economic, racial and ethnic groups.

The Obama administration has taken key steps to support millions of women and girls by establishing the Office of Global Women’s Issues in the State Department, releasing the United States National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security and developing a government-wide strategy to uplift and coordinate efforts to address gender-based violence in U.S. programs abroad. This comprehensive strategy improves existing foreign assistance programs with the goal of helping to prevent, reduce and ultimately end violence against women.

But it’s not enough to create a strategy — the U.S. Congress must take a stand against violence against women globally to effect true change. The International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) will make existing efforts to stop violence against women more integrated, effective and efficient, placing women at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

The legislation would direct the U.S. government to implement its strategy to reduce violence against women in at least five countries where violence is severe. The bill would also permanently authorize the Office of Global Women’s Issues, an important move that will ensure the prioritization of women and girls in future administrations.

I-VAWA would also allow women’s organizations abroad to finally get the help they deserve. Programmatic support and capacity building will focus on both prevention, such as economic opportunity programs and public education campaigns to change attitudes, and intervention, such as health care for women who have been raped and who may become infected with HIV/AIDS. U.S. government agencies that engage in foreign assistance work overseas would be required to take all possible steps in their programming to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and to be coordinated in these efforts.

Addressing violence against women is crucial to global development and stability. When women and girls thrive, societies are more likely to prosper, reduce rates of HIV and AIDS, decrease child and maternal mortality, and increase participatory and democratic governments — all of which makes U.S. assistance dollars go farther. U.S. security — and the security of all countries — is only enhanced when the status of women is elevated.

I-VAWA is championed by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), two powerful Jewish women leaders. The legislation was introduced in the House this past June and now has six Republican co-sponsors and will shortly be reintroduced in the Senate. This is now the fourth Congress to address this legislation. How many times does it need to be considered before it is passed?  On the heels of passing a strong, bipartisan Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, Congress has a historic opportunity to focus on women worldwide and finally pass I-VAWA.

This Purim, let’s remember Vashti, honor Esther and use our voices to stop violence against women and girls around the globe.

(Lori Weinstein is CEO of Jewish Women International, which is a steering committee member of the Coalition to End Violence Against Women and Girls Globally and the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women.)

Purim: Beyond the playfulness, a time for examination


The central character of Purim is Esther, whose name means hidden. The story is full of things hidden, and waiting for the right time to be revealed. Vashti refuses to expose her sexuality to the drunken men of the King’s court, and chooses instead to be hidden. Esther hides her Jewishness until the time is right to reveal her identity. Haman hides his humanity. The foolish king’s discernment is hidden. Even God is hidden in the story. Only Mordecai is not hidden, making his presence known to save lives. Mordecai is the counterbalance to hiding.  

The characters in the Purim story are archetypes teaching us about ourselves. What do you hide? Are you like Haman who keeps part of himself hidden in response to an old wound, or because it’s too risky to be vulnerable? Are you hiding a part of yourself because you are convinced (incorrectly) that you are not worthy, that your light is not great enough? As Marianne Williamson writes: “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” Or, are you hiding that special part of you because you, like Esther, are waiting, strategically, for the right time to serve God? In the first and second scenarios, perhaps it’s time to be revealed. In the third, perhaps it’s better to remain hiding. In the midst of our pain, we ask ourselves, where is God? As Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk says, “God is where someone lets Him in.” So let Him in.

How can you let God in when you don’t feel so good about yourself? How can you turn what is hidden in you into something that is good and seen by others? The Baal Shem Tov says lift it up to the light. Lift up the things you’re not so proud of to the light, so that you can see that even that which you keep hidden is your desire for being connected to God. Do this in prayer, meditation, or in confidential conversation with a friend.

On Purim we are told to get so drunk that we can’t tell the difference between Haman and Mordecai. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach says this means that in this state of drunkenness we don’t know the difference between arrogance and humility. Haman was arrogant and Mordecai was humble, and we assume that being humble is better. But Shlomo says you need both. “All the emotions are very holy because God made them. You only have to know the right time to use them. The truth is, in order to be a servant of God you need a lot of pride.” Pride is like arrogance that will drive you to do something courageous when no one else will do it.

You must also have humility; not humility that makes you think you’re unworthy, and not humility that makes you feel small in relation to other people. The humility you need is to know your relationship to your Creator, your compass of ethical behavior. The holy humility that we require is knowing that everything we have comes from God. Shlomo says that “If you know exactly where to use your humility then you know exactly where to use your pride.”

When it comes to parenting our children or being a partner in relationship, we need to balance pride with humility. When we find ourselves quick to criticize and ready to make our children or partners or our parents feel small, insignificant, or inadequate, we must realize that this is misplaced pride. We need humility to recognize that the people in our lives are souls in human bodies needing acknowledgement and to be treated as holy.

And here’s one of the hidden secrets in the Purim story. When you feel rage and you want to lash out – like Haman did – with judgment, criticism or worse… stop, walk out of the room, splash cold water on your face. Be like Esther. Fast for three days and ask your community for support. Do teshuvah and search for that which is hidden in you. Do the work of teshuvah, returning to the holy spark of the divine that is in you.

The Tikunei Zohar says that Purim is like Yom Kippur. The Sfat Emet explains this statement saying that teshuvah is the key to meeting God face to face. Like Esther who fasts and does teshuvah, we also fast and do teshuvah before Purim. Only after fasting and teshuvah does she enter the king’s domain, and the decree is removed. It’s the same on Yom Kippur. The process of Teshuvah is (in part) coming out from hiding and returning to your commitment to God.

Like the High Priest in the Temple, who fasted before going into the Holy of Holies, we fast, we do teshuvah, and only then do we enter the “King’s domain”. Then the decree is removed, and we start fresh. It is stated in the Talmud (Megillah 14a): “The removal of the king’s ring [that Haman used to seal his evil decree] was greater than the 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses who prophesied to Israel. For all [of them] were unable to return the Jews to righteousness; whereas removal of the ring returned the Jews to righteousness.” The threat was so real and so severe that the Jews took the responsibility of teshuvah seriously. The Sfat Emet says this teaches the power of teshuvah is so great that it can reverse evil decrees. It can reverse our own decrees.

On this Purim, let us do teshuvah and live lives in which we are all seen rather than hidden. Let us return to living lives that honor the sacred in each other by treating each other ethically and with kindness and patience. Let us be so drunk that we have no fear of bringing God out of hiding and into the stories of our lives.


Rabbi Elihu Gevirtz can be reached at rabbielihu@gmail.com. You can read more at www.rabbielihu.com.

Madonna appeals for world peace at Israel concert


Launching her world tour in Israel, Madonna appealed for Middle East and world peace.

“You can’t be a fan of mine and not want peace in the world,” she told 30,000 fans packed into Ramat Gan station.

She said she chose Israel to launch her tour in order to spread her message of peace.

“No matter how many laws we change, no matter how many percentages of land we give back, no matter how many talks, no matter how many wars, if we don’t treat every human being with dignity and respect we will never have peace,” she said, wearing a form-fitting leather dress, a black beret and a fur-like collar. “So start today, start now each and every one of you, OK? You are the future, we are the future, and if there is peace here in the Middle East then there can be peace in the whole world.”

Madonna donated 600 tickets to her concert in Israel to Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, and she recognized them in her remarks.

“There are several very brave and important NGOs that are representing both Palestine and Israel together,” she said. She had met with some of the activists on Wednesday.

Madonna, 54, twice has performed sold-out shows in Israel, including the last performance of her “Sticky and Sweet” tour in 2009. She also has visited Israel with her children as part of her devotion to the study of kabbalah; they are with her now.

She changed costume several times through the show. Her playlist included classics “Like a Virgin” and “Like a Prayer” as well as “Give Me All Your Luvin” from her latest album, MDNA.

Madonna to perform ‘Concert for Peace’ in Israel


International pop star Madonna, who will launch her upcoming world tour in Israel, has added a second concert date in Tel Aviv for a “Concert for Peace.”

Madonna will perform at Ramat Gan Stadium near Tel Aviv on May 29 and May 31. The second date has been announced as a Concert for Peace, to which the star plans to invite organizations in Israel who are working for peace.

“Music is so universal and if there’s any chance that through my performance I can bring further attention and enlightenment to honor the peace efforts in the Middle East and help people come together, it would be an honor for me.”  Madonna said in a statement issued Wednesday. “It is my way of thanking those who are making so much effort toward bringing peace to the Middle East.”

The names of the organizations have not yet been announced.

Madonna, 54, twice has performed sold-out shows in Israel, including the last performance of her “Sticky and Sweet” tour in 2009. She also has visited Israel with her children as part of her devotion to the study of Kabbalah.

Retelling Purim: Q & A with Mordechai, Esther, Vashtie and Hayman


With Purim just a grogger’s turn away on March 19, it’s time to reroll the scroll of Esther and take another look at the whole megillah. It’s a story with characters so lifelike, I should quote them. That would be news.

But lacking a time machine, I was still able to go to the source to hear what Mordecai, Esther, Haman and Vashti have to say: I interviewed prominent people—Jews and a non-Jew—whose names either come from the Megillah or sound like they are straight from the scroll:

* Rabbi Mordechai Liebling serves as director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. He is known, too, as being the father of Leor Liebling, a child with Down syndrome in the documentary film “Praying With Leor.”

* Vashtie Kola is an artistic contributor to New York City’s music and fashion worlds. She directs music videos, including one with Justin Bieber, and designs a line of streetwear called Violette. She is not Jewish.

* Pinchas Hayman, an Orthodox rabbi and formerly the dean of students at Bar-Ilan University, is the owner of Bonayich, an Israeli company that specializes in Jewish studies, especially the Oral Tradition.

* Esther Jungreis, an eminent author and inspirational teacher and speaker, is the founder of Hineni, a worldwide organization that educates Jews about their traditional roots.

JTA: How did you get your Purim name?

Mordechai: I was originally named Marvin, after my grandfather Mordechai Aider who was killed in the Shoah. He was a farmer in Galicia.

Vashtie: I am of Indian-African descent; my parents are from Trinidad. Vashtie is an Indian name, though I know it’s also the name of a person in the Bible.

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling

Hayman: Hayman is a variation of Chaim originally from Lithuania.

Esther: I am named for my great-grandmother from Hungary who was also a rebbetzin.

JTA: What influence or effect has the name had on you?

Mordechai: In my mid-20s, on July 4, 1976, I changed my name to Mordechai after the Socialist Zionist Mordecai Anielewicz, who led the fight in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Vashtie: The Israeli kids I went to school with told me all about Vashti. She seems like a powerful woman who holds her own, someone I could connect to. I am very independent. I direct music videos, and once when I showed up for a shoot, the assistant director asked me, “Are you here to dance?” I told him I was there to direct.

Hayman: In my work I visit a lot of schools. When the teacher introduces me as Rabbi Hayman, the students do look up from what they are studying. At Purim, I don’t like getting hung.

Esther: The letters for the name come from the Torah. Names are very holy. The neshama (soul) is connected to the name. Our name is given to us by Hashem.

JTA: Have you ever dressed up like your namesake?

Mordechai: Yes. I wore a serious robe and a hat. I come with my own beard.

Vashtie: Never have dressed as Vashti. But now that I think of it, I might have to.

Hayman: In Israel, as is the custom for rabbis on Purim, I wear a long black coat and a black fedora, it’s as close to dressing as Haman as I get.

Esther: No, I am not a costume person.

JTA: Who is your favorite character from the Book of Esther?

Pinchas Hayman

Mordechai: Mordechai, of course, you have to allow me some chauvinism. Second favorite is Vashti.

Vashtie: I would pick my name. Subconsciously maybe I am similar to that character.

Hayman: My favorite character is Charbonah, the king’s eunuch. He has the key line in the Megillah when he says, “Why don’t we use the gallows to hang Haman?” During the reading of the Megillah, when they get to the name of Charbonah, I say, “Hurray.”

Esther: I don’t have a favorite. Everyone has a special role, a unique mission given to us by Hashem.

JTA: How do you think your character is perceived today?

Mordechai: Mordechai is perceived as an unusually wise man who knew how to support and mentor a young woman in her rise to power.

Vashtie: Some people get really excited when they hear my name is Vashtie. They tell me their take on the story. The women are very pro but the guys say, “She’s not a good kid.”

Hayman: When they talk about Haman, they’re talking about the Amalek, Palestinians, Iranians, the Nazis.

Esther: Esther is a role model; her name means “hidden,” as “the light of God is hidden.”

JTA: Any thoughts on how we can relate today to the Purim story?

Esther Jungreis

Mordechai: The message of Purim is one of rebalancing the energy in the world between gevurah and chesed—between judgment and compassion—the wisdom of Mordechai and the compassion of Esther. The story shows the importance of having women in leadership positions.

Vashtie: The story has a classic theme of good overcoming evil. It’s a story everyone can connect to regardless of religion or culture.

Hayman: Purim is the single most important holiday today, when assimilation is rampant. We are all Esther. We hide our identity until reality forces us to realize that it’s the only important thing we really have.

Esther: The story of Esther tells us you can change destiny. A royal decree is given and even written in stone, and Esther turns everything around. Haman’s plot was foiled. Darkness becomes light, sadness becomes joy, a curse becomes a blessing. What Esther did, we have to do now.

JTA: And most important, what is your favorite flavor of hamantaschen?

Mordechai: Poppy seed. In the famous Purim latkes-hamantashen debate, I side with hamantashen.

Vashtie: I remember tasting one that was apple flavored. It reminded me of something from Trinidad.

Hayman: Not a doubt, poppy seed, with whole wheat flower and honey for sugar—and as many as possible.

Esther: I don’t focus on that. Through Hineni, we have a Purim feast; people come from all over. We celebrate, read the Megillah, eat delicious food.

(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles.)

Iran downgrades tomb of Esther and Mordechai


Iranian authorities have downgraded the status of the tomb of Esther and Mordechai, while an official state news agency has publicized the Purim story as a Jewish massacre of Iranians.

Officials recently removed the sign that identified the mausoleum of the biblical figures in the central Iranian city of Hamadan as an official pilgrimage site. The removal of the sign signifies that its status has been downgraded, according to reports.

The actions come about two weeks after a group of about 250 militant students surrounded the tomb and threatened to tear it down. Their threats were in response to alleged Israeli excavations under the Al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem.

The biblical Queen Esther was the second wife of Persian King Ahasuerus, identified as Xerxes I; Mordechai was her uncle, who also raised her.

The Iranian state news agency Fars has been reporting that Esther and Mordechai were responsible for the massacre of more than 75,000 Iranians, an event recorded in the Book of Esther, which is read on the Jewish festival of Purim.

The reports, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center citing Fars, also call the tomb an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty; report that its name must be wiped away in order to teach Iranian children to “beware of the crimes of the Jews”; call for the shrine’s return to the Iranian people; and say that the site must become “a Holocaust memorial” to the “Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai” and be placed under the supervision of the state religious endowments authority.

In a letter to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Director-General Irina Bokova, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, urged UNESCO to “call upon the Iranian authorities to take appropriate measures to terminate this campaign of racism and desecration.”

“It is perhaps time for UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee to establish instruments for the universal protection of holy sites,” Samuels concluded.

Purim — from generation to generation


Yeladim


 

We read the story of Queen Esther, Megillat Esther, twice – on Thursday evening and Friday morning. Let’s see if you know the story.

Put the parts in the right order.

__Mordechai tells Esther Haman’s plan.

__Mordechai will not bow to Haman. Haman decides to kill all the Jews on Adar.

__4. Mordechai saves the kings life by overhearing and exposing a plot to kill him.

__Haman is hanged along with his 10 sons.

__Vashti is canned. Esther becomes the new queen.

__Queen Vashti refuses to show up at the party.

__On the 13th day of Adar, the Jews outside the city of Shushan defend themselves. They win! They celebrate their victory on the 14th of Adar. That day becomes the holiday of Purim.

__The king can’t sleep. He reads his diary and remembers that Mordechai saved his life.

__Esther risks her life by going to Ahasuerus uninvited. She invites him and Haman to a banquet.

__At the banquet, Esther reveals that she is a Jew and that Haman wants to kill her people.

__King Ahasuerus throws a party.

__9. Haman visits the king. Ahasuerus calls Haman to take Mordechai around town in royal robes, riding a white horse.)

Now that you have put the story in order, find the hidden word by locating the letter in each sentence that matches the number below. (Hint: In the fourth sentence, the 11th letter is A.)

–  –  –  – –  –  –  – –  –  – –

6 7 2 1 1 1 2 1 2 4 1 2

 

Purim Briefs


Run and Deliver

Unless you are actually running the Los Angeles Marathon, the marathon and the myriad street closures are likely to inconvenience you. This year, as the marathon falls on Purim (March 7), it may inconvenience Jews delivering mishloach manot, or food packages traditionally delivered to friends and family.

The city has found a way for Purim revellers to run around the marathon. Adeena Bleich, the Jewish community liaison for City Councilman Jack Weiss, organized access through “soft closures” — not the actual marathon route, but close by — which will allow people delivering shalach manot to go through. The main street closures are going to be staggered from 4:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., so deliveries could be times for after 2 p.m.

Copies of the marathon map and street closure times were sent out to area synagogues to ensure limited interruptions in shalach manot giving.

For more information about street closures in your area,call Adeena Bleich at (310) 289-0353 or send e-mail to ableich@council.lacity.org . — Gaby Wenig, Staff Writer

Megillah for the Deaf

It is a mitzvah on Purim to hear the reading of Megillat Esther, the scroll that tells the holiday’s story. In fact, some rabbis say that if you miss hearing one word of the megillah, then you have not fulfilled your obligation.

Certainly, deaf people would have a hard time fulfilling this mitzvah. The Orthodox Union has responded with a way that deaf people can “hear” the megillah.

The Orthodox Union’s National Jewish Council for the Disabled (NJCD) came up with the “PowerPoint Megillat Esther Program,” a CD-ROM that can be loaded into a computer and then projected to the front of the synagogue. A hearing person operates the equipment, following along with the cantor and pointing out the words being read using the mouse of the computer, which are the highlighted, karaoke-style, on the screen. Every time the name Haman comes up, the word is clicked and a graphic of stamping appears on the screen to simulate what should be going on in the synagogue at that moment.

Frank Duchoeny, the Montreal coordinator of Our Way for the Jewish Deaf, a division of the NJCD, developed the program two years ago. This year the CD-ROM, which is available to synagogues for $100, comes with a number of additional features.

“This year’s version has new graphics for Haman and the blessings recited before and after the megillah reading, and it also highlights the psukim [verses] that are recited by entire congregation,” said Batya Jacobs, Our Way’s program director. “The mitzvah of hearing Megillat Esther is a requirement for every Jew. Using our PowerPoint program will facilitate the inclusion of our fellow Jews who are deaf or hard of hearing within the community in this mitzvah.”

For more information or to place an order, call (212)613-8127 or send e-mail to arielib@ou.org . — GW

The Comic Esther

Think your kids watch too many cartoons with no educational value? Have them check out “The Queen of Persia,” a feature-length animated video about the story of Purim, and a graphic novel of the same title based on the video’s screenplay. The novel reads something like a Purim version of the “Asterix” comics — a guilty pleasure with a lot of humor and color on every page.

Shazak Productions, a Chicago-based media company, produced the Purim media to teach children in a fun way, said Rabbi Moshe Moscowitz, the company’s founder. A teacher for two decades, Moscowitz wants the book to spice up classroom learning, and therefore kept the book and video faithful to the authentic biblical sources.

“I want to give teachers new tools that really excite students,” he said. “Whenever learning material is presented in an exciting way, people will learn better. Our goal is to capture the fancy of everyone. Everybody, regardless of background, could pick up [‘The Queen of Persia’] and have a blast.”

For more information or to order “The Queen of Persia”CD, book or video, go to www.shazak.com or e-mail njpmail@mindspring.com . — GW

by Abby Gilad


Purim

Why do we wear costumes and masks on Purim? Well, it could be to remind us that Queen Esther hid her Jewish identity from King Ahasuerus. Because of that, she was able to save the Jewish people. It could be a way for us to turn the world upside down for a little while, in the same way that the world was turned upside down in Shushan: Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been built for Mordechai; the Jews were not killed, but were able to defend themselves; and a day of mourning was turned into day of joy.

The Joy of Purim

Purim takes place on the 14th day of Adar. So we say: Mishenichnas Adar marbim besimcha. “In the month of Adar, we are filled with joy.” So, here’s a joke:Q:What do you call a steak ordered by 10 Jews?A: Fillet minyan!

Who Will Be Esther?


I’ve always had an affinity for Esther, the Persian queen
who saved the Jews and had an entire megillah named for her.

So connected did I feel to this Jewish heroine that, as a
child, I always made it my business to pray and fast on Ta’anit Esther (the
Fast of Esther), which takes place the day before Purim (on Monday, this year),
even though it wasn’t as strictly required as say Yom Kippur.

I felt for Esther not only because my Hebrew name is the
same as hers, nor as my siblings would say, because I had aspirations to
royalty. For young Jewish girls, Esther was our customized fairy tale, the
Israelites’ Cinderella, or to put it in more modern terms, our own reality
show: “Persian Idol.” Esther was plucked from obscurity — perhaps against her
will — to join a beauty pageant whose winner would marry King Ahashuerus and
receive almost half of the 127 lands he ruled (take that “Joe Millionaire”).

She possessed all the qualities of a “good” Jewish girl —
modesty, beauty, fear of God, femininity — and still she won the contest, got
her man and later saved her people. And although we costumed grade-schoolers
vied to be the best beauty contest winner at Purim carnivals, it was the later
Esther we admired: the one who fasted, prayed, went before the king, risked her
life, pulled a fast one on the evil Haman, all in order to save her people.

Meek, modest Esther quietly saved the day.

After the decree was sent out from Shushan to “kill, cause
to perish, all Jews both young and old, little children and women, in one day,”
the king and Haman sat down to drink, Viha’ir Shushan Navocha — but the city of
Shushan was bewildered; commentators say that the Jews cried and wailed loudly
while, simultaneously, the Persians rejoiced at the new decree. Listeners were
bewildered trying to differentiate between the cries of anguish and the shouts
of joy.

I find it prescient that America prepares for war as we
prepare for the Fast of Esther. Although the fast turned out well — ultimately
ending in the holiday of Purim — the Jews had no way of knowing that at the
time; their fate was hovering on the brink of destruction.

Esther fasted and prayed for three days before she went to
her husband, the king, to ask him to reverse the decree.

As we hear our government’s decrees, see our security codes
go on to high alert and hear both the drums of war and the drumbeats of those
blaming Israel for the war, it doesn’t seem that far off from Esther’s and the
Jews’ plight so many years ago in the very same gulf region.

Who will be our Esther? Who will save us this time? There is
no Esther around, female or male, ready to save the day. It is up to us: we can
fast, we can pray, we can make ourselves heard, acting as courageously as
Esther did when the Jewish people descended into a state of darkness and confusion
after Haman called for the Jews’ destruction.

As we hear Megillat Esther this week, I’m sure our thoughts
will be elsewhere, to more imminent dangers. But perhaps our prayers will be
answered as Esther’s were, and our story, for now, will end as hers did:
La’yehudim hayta ora v’simcha, v’sasson, v’ykar.”

“The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor.”  

Kids Page


Why do we wear costumes and masks on Purim? Well, it could be to remind us that Queen Esther hid her Jewish identity from King Ahasuerus. Because of that, she was able to save the Jewish people. It could be a way for us to turn the world upside down for a little while, in the same way that the world was turned upside down in Shushan: Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been built for Mordechai; the Jews were not killed, but were able to defend themselves; and a day of mourning was turned into day of joy.

While it is sometimes important, even life-preserving, to “put on a mask,” you might want to think about how you live your life day to day.

Do you wear a mask when you go to school? Maybe you put on the mask of the “cool skateboarder dude” or the “giggly popular girl.” After a while, it gets hard to keep that mask on. So throw it away and let your beautiful face, the real you, shine through!

Purim takes place on the 14th day of Adar. So we say: Mishenichnas Adar marbim besimcha. “In the month of Adar, we are filled with joy.”

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The Queen’s Advice


The Megillah tells us that Esther found the courage to confront Ahasuerus, confess she was a Jew and not only save her relationship, but the entire Jewish people. And yet more than 2,000 years later, this Jewish girl can’t even find the courage to confront the guy I’m dating and confess how much I truly like him.

Dave and I met ordering margaritas at El Cholo. He asked for blended, I asked for salt; he asked me out. And while we both agreed to "just have fun," my heart’s come a-knockin’. There’s just something really special about him. I get butterflies when we talk and my spine tingles when we kiss.

I know we said we’d "keep things casual" and "see where things take us," but Dave takes me to unexpected places. Sometimes your heart’s coming up, so you better get this party started. Until now, I’ve spiced our courtship with a dash of flirting and a pinch of passion, but I’ve been too scared to turn up the heat. Dave’s "smarter than the average bear," and probably knows that people in a relationship may be closer than they appear. And yet, I can’t find the chutzpah to say those three little words: "I like you."

But why? I think I like him, so what am I so afraid of? His reaction. I’ll give him my heart; he’ll give me a pen.

See, boys like the chase, the mystery and any girl they can’t have. And confessing a crush puts a halt on the hunt. Men also have exclusivity allergies. They want to be with you but keep their options open. Like Ahasuerus, they want to have their queen and their harem, too. So revealing my true feelings to Dave will be more controversial than The Heidi Game.

We interrupt this exciting flirtship to bring you chick-flick sentimentality.

So how can I open up to Dave without scaring him off? How can I tell him how I feel without ruining what we have? Survey says: never tell your man "we need to talk." That phrase is the Sports Illustrated cover curse of relationships. He’ll be outta there faster than Casey FitzRandolph on speed skates. I also fear our heart-to-heart will take a turn for the sappy, and I’ll sound more desperate than a teen with a Casey Kasem long-distance dedication. How do I keep the talk truthful, but the tone teasing?

And so I turn to Esther for advice. She’s a smoking-hot babe who holds her own with her man. Perhaps she could teach this margarita-drinking, mensch-seeking singleton how to take a relationship risk.

When we meet Esther, she is a typical Jewish girl trying to please her new beau, Ahasuerus. She spends a year getting ready for their first date. She lets it slide that he doesn’t call the next day, or even the next month, after a rendezvous. And she refuses to call him first, scared to death of making the first move.

But then our heroine ditches her high-maintenance, timid beauty queen shtick and boldly goes where no girl has gone before. According to the Megillah, Esther breaks all the relationship rules and conquers the final frontier: The heart-to-heart talk. Who needs "Loveline" and Dr. Laura when we’ve got the Persian princess? Everything I need to know about relationships I can learn from the Meghillah.

Esther says, the best place to confront a man is over dinner. As men are more likely to swoon over a svelte girl, Esther also recommends dieting for three days before the big date. Our queen wore couture royal robes by Armani, but if yours are at the dry cleaner, any low-cut shirt, high-cut skirt will work. And most importantly, Esther reminds us to get the man stuffed with grub and plotzed on wine. When he’s full, drunk and happy tell him what’s really on your mind.

And so, this Purim I’m going to pull an Esther. I’m not going to wait for Dave to call me; I’m going to pick up the phone, reach out and touch someone. I’m going to lure him to my pad, cook up a feast, look him straight in the eye, and say, "Dave, I’m in crush with you." So thanks to Esther, Dave and I will be making hamantashen in no time.

Our Purim Story


Our family’s Esther was an 11-year-old girl, a petite and doe-eyed child with a profound sense of physical and temperamental modesty. She attended a large urban middle school, and this was her first year moving from class to class, her first year of boy-ask-girl school dances, her first year changing clothes in a locker room.

This story’s Haman was an unlikely candidate — another 11-year-old girl named Nadine, loud and brassy, who towered over our Esther. While other girls in the locker room self-consciously changed to gym clothes, hastily and with eyes cast down, Nadine undressed with a striptease, exposing herself to others when the P.E. teacher was out of sight, and commenting on other girls’ bodies.

Nadine’s behavior shocked her classmates. Too embarrassed to react, they responded with silence, and since Nadine mistook silence for consent, things became even worse. Over time, she began to make obvious sexual advances towards others, including our Esther, and began to touch and fondle smaller girls. She would shove littler kids into corners and onto the floor, trying to grope their bodies, loudly singing provocative rap melodies all the while.

The more disturbing Nadine’s behavior became, the deeper her classmates’ silence grew. There seemed to be nowhere to turn and no one to talk to, since the teacher patrolled the locker room only to hustle kids out to the playing field. And not one child wanted to confront the disturbed girl for fear of drawing attention to herself.

One evening, however, while taking a bath, our Esther called out to her mother for a towel. Her mother knocked on the door, and discovered her child sitting in a tub full of water, fully clothed, rubbing soap over herself and weeping.

“Mommy,” said our Esther, “I’m going to dress for bed, and then I have a story to tell you.”

Esther’s terrible tale did not come out all at once. Her story was revealed slowly and with reluctance, because victims are just as fearful of going to an authority — even a loving one — as the Biblical Esther was of approaching her king and husband. Only bit by bit did the truth come out that evening, like peeling the brittle, clinging layers of an onion skin to find something below that can only bring tears to your eyes.

We trembled with rage and pain for our child, and our first impulse was to act the part of Ahashuerus by publicly humiliating Nadine, and then hanging her from a high gallows. Instead we decided to be our Esther’s Mordechai, true counselors and friends.

To this Esther we said, “Let’s put an end to this problem first thing tomorrow morning. We will go together to talk to your principal and teachers.”

Our Esther demurred. “I can’t tell anyone again,” she said. “It’s too embarrassing. No one will believe me. And, when Nadine finds out who told, who knows what will happen?”

Who can argue against these truths? Each painful retelling might bring back the same horror as the experience itself, and the dangers of being disbelieved or more severely victimized were real.

On the other hand, how else to stop the terror for herself and her classmates?

Our Esther found her courage, and the next morning confronted her first Ahashuerus — a principal who immediately conducted an investigation and removed Nadine from the scene, to the jubilant relief of dozens of girls. Esther became their heroine and confidant. There were countless other Ahashueruses that followed in the weeks and months to come, administrators, teachers, police officers, and of course her classmates. Other children were emboldened, and also came forward telling similar tales to their own parents and teachers.

And what became of our little Haman, Nadine? Efforts of police and social workers revealed that several of her mother’s serial boyfriends had entertained themselves by abusing Nadine, and she was immediately removed to the safety of another home.

In the end, this is how we discover if our children have learned to redeem themselves. Indeed, the truest therapy for this Esther has been knowing that she spoke out not only to save herself, but also to save her classmates, and even to save Haman.


Lisa Morgan writes on Jewish family issues in Los Angeles. All names, including the author’s, have been changed.