International Women's Day and Purim: Finding the connection
International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900s. This year is only the fifth time the date has aligned with Purim and the fist since since the establishment of the Jewish Women’s Archive, so we obviously had to address the significance. (For those who are curious, the date aligned previously in 1917, 1936, 1955, and 1974)
International Women's Day is self-described as a “global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.” Since its first official observance in 1911, it has been a worldwide observance of the struggles and accomplishments of the global women’s rights movement. (For a detailed history of IWD, check out this very comprehensive blog post from 2010.)
In the Purim story, we learn of two phenomenal women, who are definitely worth celebrating. Vashti, King Ahasuerus’ first wife, who refuses to strut her stuff (keeping it PG) during a party gets dethroned. She stood up for herself and refused to be treated just as a body on display, even though it was the end to her reign as Queen because King Ahasuerus and his advisers feared it would make women throughout Persia stand up to their husbands. Next comes up Queen Esther, who gets picked from a beauty pageant (again with the PG here) to be the next queen. She hides her Jewish identity because she knows it will help her in the long run, and reveals it only when she knows that Uncle Mordechi and the entire community are about to be killed. Both of these women could have taken the easy road, but they didn’t. They did what was right, even though it was not what was easy.
This is the very essence of what International Women’s Day is all about. Celebrating women who do what needs to be done, even when it isn’t easy. There have been, and will be, many times where we just have to say no, times when we have to cease immediate gratification for the big picture. We have to harness the lessons of the Purim heroines as we celebrate how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.
Purim is centrally celebrated by reading the Book of Esther (Megillat Esther) which recounts the full story of Purim. It is important to note that in the Book of Esther, God’s name is not mentioned even once - we are to assume that God is the marionette pulling the strings and making everything line up from behind the scenes. This is another link to the celebration of International Women’s Day where we recognize not only the powerhouses on the front lines, but also all the women who have a hand in the background offering their support, encouragement, and wisdom to those who lead the battle every day.
It is so vital for us to recognize that without God lining up the events, Vasti and Esther’s heroism would not have mattered, nor would Esther and Vashti have been such great heroines without God’s support. So too, without the women behind the scenes, the bold work of the feminist leaders would be for naught and the vocal leadership needs the support of the rest of us. This year is a prime moment to recognize the importance of both sides of leadership, and to celebrate all women who are a part of the global efforts to impact change in economic, political, and social issues. We need each other in order to succeed, and if Esther could save the Jews, we can definitely keep improving the lives of women worldwide.