What would Queen Esther say?, by Rabbi Roni Handler

This year Purim falls on International Women's Day.  What would our Purim heroines think about the rights and roles of women in today's world?

Thousands of years ago our mythic Queen Esther entered into a partnership with King Ahashverosh of Shushan that put her in the right place at the right time to approach the King and plead on behalf of her people. We praise Queen Esther for her heroic decision to reveal the truth about her identity and advocate for the entire Jewish community. (Strong heroines were not typically glorified in her day.) 

Reading her story in 2012, I cannot help but wonder what Queen Esther would say if she could experience and observe the roles of women all over today’s world.  Perhaps it would fill her with awe to see women in seats of great power—serving on the Supreme Court, as elected officials and as CEOs of large companies.  Maybe she would be inspired to see women juggling families and jobs, earning the right to vote and prioritizing education.  Or maybe she would despair to note the areas in which women still struggle for equality: striving to earn equal wages for equal work, battling to end human trafficking and struggling to gain access to basic rights and freedoms. 

This year the holiday of Purim auspiciously falls on an important day for the international community.  March 8 is International Women’s Day, a modern holiday stretching back more than a century that raises awareness of gender discrimination in all countries and campaigns for increased women’s rights.  The confluence of these two events—Purim and International Women’s Day—shines light on women’s place in both our secular and religious/cultural communities and challenges us to examine the equality of women in all parts of our lives. 

As we celebrate Purim and the strengths of both Vashti and Esther, may we also notice the contributions of the women in our lives and around the world.  May we notice the great achievements—particularly in the last 100 years—of women in our global community while also taking note of all the areas which still call out for our attention.  And, most of all: may we each have the courage of Queen Esther, the hutzpah of Queen Vashti, and the ability to effect change in our own unique way as we speak up for all women.  Hazak, hazak venithazek, may we continue to move from strength to strength.