This week I’ve had the opportunity to experience a most unusual and unique American tradition- Mardi Gras. I was in awe as
I walked down the streets of New Orleans: So many people dressed up in creative and outrages costumes, beads flying everywhere (one must be careful not to get hit over the head!). Parades taking place all throughout the day and night. It is truly a wonder.
Of course, being at Mardi Gras made me think of Purim. Now, it’s an interesting fact that the Jewish people have been celebrating Purim for thousands of years, much earlier than the Mardi Gras celebrations ever began. Furthermore, if any of you have ever had the chance to experience Purim in Israel, you know that it is a real treat.
Personally, I have enjoyed Purim ever since I was a little girl. A month before the holiday begins, you can already feel it everywhere you go. Shops are filled with Hamantaschen and Mishlochei Manot
; parties and carnivals can be found and the costume possibilities are endless. Every year, I would wake up in the morning quite excited, have my mom dress me up and put on my makeup (“It is always so cold on Purim, why can’t we celebrate it in the summer?” I thought to myself), then proceed to school. There we would have a class party, deliver Mishlochei Manot
between us classmates and have a costume contest in the large assembly.
Even throughout my years in the IDF, I still got dressed up and enjoyed the Purim party on base. I remember one particular Purim, during which I was a cadet in the Officers training school. That year we were in Jerusalem for the holiday, and had the opportunity to experience Purim in the Jewish quarter in the old city. It was quite an interesting experience, much different than my schoolgirl experiences in Tel-Aviv.
On Purim, much like other Jewish holidays, we celebrate the redemption of the Jewish people, and thank God for our survival. However, Purim is different. Unlike holidays such as Chanukah and Passover, in which our salvation was by a divine intervention, on Purim we owe our salvation to one woman: Queen Esther. It is due to her that the Jews in Paras (Iran of today) were saved and overcame Haman’s desire to exterminate the Jewish people.
Now, think about that for a moment. We are talking about a period of time in history where women had no rights. They were bought and moved from their father’s house to that of their husband’s. And here we are, talking about a Jewish woman who was married to King Ahasuerus, no less!
Queen Esther took advantage of her feminine skills and used all of her influence on the king as soon as she found out that one of his viziers, Haman, had plotted against the Jewish people living in the Persian Empire. It is considered to be one of the earliest feminist stories: not just in Jewish history, but in the history of mankind.
To me, the story of Esther speaks of feminism and standing up for what’s right, despite your fears. Another good feminist example in the story is the character of Vashti, king Ahasuerus’ first wife, who intentionally disobeyed her husband’s command and refused to come down to the royal banquet and be presented to the court. I’d like to think that similar to Esther, Vashti was aware of the repercussions of her actions. Alas, she stood her ground, refusing to be the trophy wife, and paid the price for it.
Now, what does the scroll of Esther have to do with modern day Israel, one might ask? Well, here’s my answer. In the recent Israeli elections, 27 women were elected into the Knesset. This number keeps growing between elections. I find that quite inspiring. New and aspiring Knesset members include women such as Merav Michaeli (Labor), Dr. Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) and Ayelet Shaked (The Jewish Home). Not to mention the fact that three of the heads of parties in the Knesset are women (Shelley Yechimovitz, Labor; Tzipi Livni, Ha’tnu’a; and Zehava Gal’on, Meretz), give me hope that Israel is heading off to a better future. All of these women have earned their place in the Knesset by standing their ground, and for their wish to make Israel’s future brighter.
Before I finish and wish you all a Purim Sameach
, I’d like to share a story that indicates yet again the triumph and struggle of the Jewish people, the story of Tel Hai.
Tel Hai was founded in 1916 by a group of Hashomer guards. Hashomer was an organization that believed only Jews should guard Jewish settlements. After the First World War, Tel Hai and other Galilee settlements were transferred to French rule and suffered in the Arab revolt against the French. In January 1920, two Tel Hai members were killed in an Arab attack, and on the 11th of Adar, 5680 (March 1, 1920), six more died when hundreds of Arabs attacked the settlement.
Among the fallen was Yosef Trumpeldor, the guards’ young commander. Trumpeldor is known for his famous saying, “It is a good thing, dying for our country.”
Tel Hai was abandoned, but the battles did not end for another few months, after which the settlers returned to rebuild their homes. Since then, Tel Hai has been a symbol of heroism. Each year, on the 11th of Adar, an official memorial ceremony is held for Trumpledor and his comrades at the cemetery in nearby Kfar Gil’adi, where the young fighters were buried in a common grave. A statue of a roaring lion stands in the cemetery, sculpted by Avraham Melinkov in 1926, as an expression of their strength.
This story is well known in Israel as a symbol of heroism and idealism. It speaks of standing your ground even when being forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. Remembering the stories of both Esther and Tel Hai are important to understanding the significance of Purim in Jewish and Israeli history. The holiday is truly more than just parades, costumes and wine. It is about standing up for the greater good.
I hope to see all of you who are in your 20s or 30s at our annual Purim Party
on February 23!
, Israeli Shlicha