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JWA - Queen Esther: A Purim Heroine

Esther, a young Jewish woman who becomes a Persian queen, is an unusual biblical heroine. Initially a passive and obedient girl, she follows the instruction of Mordecai, her cousin/adopted father, hiding her Jewish identity and joining King Ahaseurus' harem, where her beauty and docility make her a favorite with the king. When Mordecai informs her of a genodical plot against the Jews by Haman, the king's evil vizier, at first she refuses to intervene, demurring that she is forbidden from approaching the king without invitation.

This crisis transforms Esther from a docile girl into a courageous leader. Taking charge of Mordecai's effort to stop Haman, she devises a risky plan that uses her beauty, charm, and political astuteness to save her people. In doing so, she reveals her true identity as both a Jew and a woman of action, and shows us how even people on the margins can marshall their talent, strength, and wit to change the course of history.

Many other historical and modern Esthers carry on the queen's legacy of courage, resourcefulness, and activism. Discover the contributions of the Esthers below. Tell us about other Esthers whom we should celebrate on Purim—and every day.

Esther Brandeau: French Canada's first Jewish resident

Esther M. Broner: Novelist, playwright, ritualist, and feminist writer

Esther Eggleston: The first female executive administrator of Temple de Hirsch Sinai, Narrator for Weaving Women's Words: Seattle

Esther G. Gottesman: Zionist who played an important role in acquiring the Dead Sea Scrolls for Israel

Esther Hautzig: Children's writer

Esther Kasle Jones: Jewish communal activist, life-long mentor

Esther Kustanowitz: Writer, consultant, Jewish communal professional, social media maven

Estée Lauder (born Josephine Esther Mentzer): Founder of Estée Lauder Cosmetics, philanthropist

Esther Lederer, aka "Ann Landers": Famous advice columnist

Esther Raab: Israel's first "native" woman poet

Esther Rome: Health activist, writer, co-author of Our Bodies Ourselves.

Esther Ruskay: Writer and speaker

Esther Shumiatcher-Hirschbein: Poet and essayist

5 Comments

Happy Erev Purim and International Women's Day. Happy 100th birthday to Hadassah and 100th anniversary of the successful resolution of the Lawrence textile-workers' strike that gave us the song "Bread and Roses."

On this last full moon of the winter, at a time when women's rights are again under increasing attacks in this country, we celebrate not only Queen Vashti who dared to say No, but Queen Esther aka Hadassah, a courageous Jewish beauty queen. The Megilla is a made-up story (so we don't have to feel guilty about all the senseless slaughter at the end-- the gantse megilla is an over-the-top tall tale), and Queen Esther is a legend. A legend whose name and persona is intertwined with goddesses of love and beauty ranging from Middle Eastern Ashtoret to Greek Aphrodite to Roman Venus-- all associated with the beautiful blue planet (in the days before we knew about planets, simply a Super Star) that often makes a brilliant appearance at this time of year. Ashtoret/ Aphrodite/ Venus is a goddess of love whose crown is made of flowering Myrtle (Hadassah in Hebrew), a starry-flowered, glossy leaved shrub with medicinal uses for healing and purification-- and also aphrodisiac properties appropriate to a goddess of love and beauty.

Not many who observe Purim are aware of the links between Esther and Venus; but for me, eating sweet seed-and-fruit-filled triangular pastries under the full moon at a time of masked merriment and unfettered dance has everything to do with the divine feminine and nothing whatsoever to do with Haman's hat.

This Purim marks the Jewish lunar calendar's 100th anniversary of the founding of Hadassah by Henrietta Szold and friends. Named in honor of Hadassah (the Jewish Queen and the healing plant-companion of the goddess of love), the Hadassah hospital that Szold envisioned not only exists but continues to offer health care to Jews and Arabs in need. Szold (along with Judah Magnus and Martin Buber) also dreamed not only of a Jewish homeland, but a bi-national state, where Jews and Arabs would live in peace and mutual respect. At a time when we are weary of war and war-mongering, at a time when we celebrate ancient miracles and dreams come true, may it be so.

I've always felt that it was an honor to be Esther, and I'm glad to know that there are so many other women to admire and emulate, of any name, whether they are actual Esthers or spiritual holders of the Queen's legacy. :) Thanks for this.

When Sally Gratch from Evenston, IL met Svetlana Yakimenko in Russia in the late 1980s, it was not yet o.k. to be a Jew in Russia. For the next few years they traveled together and met Jews in towns and villages. In 1994 they invited Jewish women from around the world to Kiev to meet and talk and learn from one another. Since then Project Kesher has become one of the most important Jewish groups in the Former Soviet Union. By forming alliances with other minority groups, they have become the largest group addressing domestic violence. Throughout Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova women and girls come together to learn Torah and Jewish rituals. At the UN recently Project Kesher was the only Jewish group standing up in an international forum for the rights of women of all ethnicities and faiths in a half-dozen Russian-speaking countries. While Sveta is not named Esther, she represents the Jewish woman in hiding who steps forth to save her people.

So I am another Esther. Vice President of Community and Foundation Relations at FEGs Health and Human Services in NYC Former Chair of the Jewish Womens's Task Force at UJA/Federation

Esther-Ann AschÌ¢‰â‰۝Thank you so much for posting, but youÌ¢‰â‰ã¢re being entirely too modest!

Esther made headlines when she was just a three-month-old baby. Her mother, a New York City school teacher, adopted Esther and applied to the Board of Education for maternity leave. Up until that time, it was unheard of for an adoptive mother to take maternity leave.

The case went to court where EstherÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s mom argued that she should have the same rights as any other new mother. The law was eventually changed, and EstherÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s mom was granted maternity leave.

Thirty-eight years later, Esther was elected to the board of Louise Wise Services, then the preeminent Jewish adoption agency in the countryÌ¢‰â‰۝the same one which handled her own adoption. She has led a life committed to Jewish and womenÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s causes. She has served as Westchester Area Chair of the New Leadership Division of UJA-Federation of New York and the chair of the organizationÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s Jewish womenÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s task force. Since 1982, she has been Vice President of Community and Foundation relations at FEGS Health and Human Services.

"Esther y Mardoqueo escribiendo la primera carta del Purim" by Aert de Gelder
Full image

"Esther y Mardoqueo escribiendo la primera carta del Purim," by Aert de Gelder (1645–1727).

Image Source: Wikimedia.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "JWA - Queen Esther: A Purim Heroine." (Viewed on March 23, 2017) <https://jwa.org/discover/throughtheyear/march/esther>.

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