Purim 2024

Queen Esther, a woman of valor

We, too, can have an impact on the powers that be, and protect our brethren at home and abroad.

King Ahasuerus and Haman at the “Feast of Esther.” Credit: Rembrandt Painting, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, via Wikimedia Commons.
King Ahasuerus and Haman at the “Feast of Esther.” Credit: Rembrandt Painting, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, via Wikimedia Commons.
William Daroff
William Daroff
​William Daroff is CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In that capacity, he is the senior professional guiding the Conference’s agenda on behalf of the 50 national member organizations, which represent the wide mosaic of American Jewish life. Follow him at @Daroff

Jewish holidays have a miraculous way of reminding us we are not so far removed from the experiences of our ancestors and that, as they prevailed in their times, so shall we in ours. Purim acquires a special resonance this year as a reminder of the precariousness of Jewish existence as a perennial reality and that each generation must battle the scourge of antisemitism.

American Jews, who for so long felt largely spared from this constant of Jewish history, now find ourselves faced with a dilemma that would feel familiar to many of our ancestors: How do we combat an evil actor who wants to exterminate the Jews and has sympathizers in our own land?

Queen Esther serves as a timeless example to us: We must summon our courage and raise our voices before the powers that be.

Present-day American Jews have privileges not afforded to our ancestors: We have reached the highest echelons of political and social life. We have a loud and authoritative voice on issues that concern us. We have relationships with other diverse communities and those in power.  In this time of need, we must recall the words of Mordechai to Esther, who herself hesitated to petition the king to spare her people. Mordechai reminded her, “Who knows if it is not for just such a time that you reached this royal position. Do not think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews by being [in a place of power].”

Queen Esther heeded his words and saved the Jewish people through her intervention. We, too, can have an impact on the powers that be, and protect our brethren at home and abroad. We, too, must remember that we are not immunized from the dangers of antisemitism, no matter the status we often enjoy as a community. And we, too, must stand up for other Jews around the world, even if we feel safe within our homes.

Purim is a festive holiday, replete with noisemakers, costumes and carnivals. Many worry that our merriment is unseemly at a time such as this. How can we be so cheerful amid the loss of the 1,200 innocents murdered on Oct. 7? Add to that the ordeal of the over 100 hostages still held in Gaza and the families of those who have lost loved ones in battle against Hamas.

These are difficult questions indeed, but in Judaism, we sanctify life and seek to make it joyful, even amidst the greatest hardships. We even have historical accounts of Purim being celebrated in the ghettos of Nazi-occupied Europe during the Holocaust. We must find it within ourselves to be cheerful, especially for our children’s sake. They must know that to be part of the Jewish people is not only to suffer but to celebrate our heritage and our victories too.

The Jewish people remain as united as ever before, understanding that right now in Gaza an existential struggle for both the State of Israel and the Jewish people is being waged. The wicked Hamans of Hamas, having successfully carried out a pogrom, should never have the chance to annihilate so many of us again.

Queen Esther remains a relevant and inspirational icon this Purim season. May this foremother and woman of valor be both a personal and political model for us.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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