As Purim approaches, we begin to think about the themes of the holiday such as antisemitism, identity, and the choices that the characters in Megillat Esther made to ensure the survival of the Jewish people.
The story of Purim is a story that takes place in the balance between fate and agency.
On one hand, the pur (the lottery) was a deciding factor in the destruction of the Persian Jewish community, while on the other, proactive human behavior was needed to save the day. When Mordechai tells Esther that the fate of the Jews has been decided, and that she must intervene, her initial reaction is to tell him that there is nothing she can do as the King has not called for her and she cannot approach him without an invitation. But then Mordechai suggests that it was for just this moment that she became queen, וּמִ֣י יוֹדֵ֔עַ אִם־לְעֵ֣ת כָּזֹ֔את הִגַּ֖עַתְּ לַמַּלְכֽוּת, and she gathers the strength necessary to act.
In the Ethics of the Fathers it is written that there is no one that does not have his/her hour- אֵין לְךָ אָדָם שֶׁאֵין לוֹ שָׁעָה. This was Esther’s hour, and she is celebrated for her actions that brought about the salvation of the Jews of Persia. We encourage you to explore the themes of choosing to participate through a reading found in the final chapter of our Holocaust and Human Behavior resource. Finding a Voice in Art is about the women of Chile who created a movement to challenge the Pinochet dictatorship, reminiscent of the women who fasted with Esther for three days before she approached Achashverosh, the King. We all have an hour in which we have the strength and the resources to act for positive change, and when we unify as a group our power increases.
Purim is also a time when we think about hidden identities.
Esther’s name comes from the Hebrew word le’hastir or to hide. She changes her name from Hadassah to Esther in order to take on a Persian identity, masking her identity as a Jew. This eventually allows her to play the leading role in saving her own people. The Chilean women in the reading, in a clandestine revolution, stitched together arpilleras that told the hidden story of the disappeared victims of Pinochet. For younger students, making a mask is a good activity to explore the idea of hidden identities. Our lesson about making masks centers around Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, We Wear the Mask and the retold and adapted poem, The Mask by Maya Angelou.
- arpilleras are brightly colored patchwork pictures stiched together by groups of women (also known as arpilleristas) in Chile during the military dictatorship (1973–90) of Augusto Pinochet.