Written by Ashira Prizant, Director of Queen’s Hillel
In the year 357 BCE, Haman, the villain many of us may be familiar with, rose to power as prime minister in Persia, and issued an edict calling for the destruction of the Jewish people. Tomorrow, we celebrate the holiday of Purim, in which we commemorate the victory of the Jewish people, our heroine Esther, and that we were saved from this evil decree. The holiday of Purim calls for great joy and celebration, sharing festive meals with family and friends, hearing the story of Purim, and sharing gifts with friends and those in our community who are less fortunate. Basically, it’s all fun and hamentashens. But, of course, the edict was not so simply overturned. In Megillat Esther (the scroll/written form recording the story of Purim), we read that, after Haman’s decree was announced:
“When Mordekhai perceived all that was done, Mordekhai rent his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and cried with a loud voice and a bitter cry; and came even before the king’s gate: for none might enter into the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. Also, in every province that the king’s command and decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing, and everybody lay in sackcloth and ashes.” (4:1-3)
Today is actually Ta’anit Esther, the Fast of Esther, on which many still today refrain from eating and drinking to commemorate the actions of the Jewish people who were faced with prejudice and potential annihilation at that time. The story of Purim has many lessons to teach us, but some of the major themes that emerge from our history are teachings about communal unity, and social action. The Jewish people self organized, gathered together, and advocated for each other as a community. Esther used her voice and her position to speak up and ensure the inevitable destruction of the Jewish people would not happen-and she did so in the face of men who wielded great power over her. Mordekhai and the Jewish people essentially engaged in social action through a sit-in and hunger strike in their commitment to their cause. Purim teaches us about the unlimited power of leaders who see injustice, and speak out against it. Purim reminds us of the incredible potential for change, and the Jewish value of being empowered to create it, and pursue what is just. These messages resonate so strongly on our campus. Queen’s Hillel students are asking big questions about the world we live in, and how they can make a difference. They actively strive to create a more equitable, respectful, kind and just community on this campus. At a time when young people are driving social change in our society, Purim is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the leaders in Jewish history, like Esther, who paved the way and serve as an example to our students as to their unlimited power and potential.
To those fasting, I hope it is meaningful, and I wish you all a Happy and Joyful Purim!