Chat Log for Queen Esther and Bella Abzug: Costumes, Leadership, and Identity

Etta began by inviting participants to introduce themselves and offer their favorite Purim resource.

Etta King: My name is Etta King. I am the Education Program Manager at the Jewish Women's Archive.
Samara Sofian: HI! I'm Samara Sofian. I'm the Director of Life Long Learning at Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Milwaukee, WI
Marilyn Heiss: Greetings from San Francisco. I'm Marilyn Heiss, a Jewish educator here in the Bay Area. I have the graphic Gegillat Esther by JT Waldman, published by JPS. My favorite part is when the book literally “flips” in the middle of the story.
Miriam Cantor-Stone: Welcome everyone! My name is Miriam Cantor-Stone, I'm the Education Program Assistant here at JWA. I also teach third grade at the Boston Workmen's Circle and I loved reading the book, The Story of Queen Esther by Jenny Koralek , to my students.
Naomi Sandberg: Hi from Rockville, MD
Erin Mahony: Hi from St. Louis
Lynn Anne Cutler: This is Lynn Anne from New Jersey.
Samara Sofian: I like the Almost Whole Megillah for an all-school Megillah reading

After introductions, Etta asked participants to discuss how the Purim story begins, who is Esther, and why she had to keep up the appearance of a non-Jew in the royal court. Etta also wondered if Etta should be considered courageous or was she simply strategic?

Marilyn Heiss: King in Persia unhappy with his wife
Lynn Anne Cutler: usually it starts with Vashti
Marilyn Heiss: She stands up to the king, doesn't do exactly what he wants.
Elaine Cohen: The story actually begins with the big party that the king hosts and then he commands Vashti to enter and she refuses....
Marilyn Heiss: She is so beautiful, yet there is a mystery surrounding her as a backstory...she is an Jewish orphan, brought up by her uncle who hangs out at the castle gates.
Marilyn Heiss: I love the different portrayals of the beauty of Esther.
Marilyn Heiss: Something that may be good to point out to students, showing them different “looks” of beauty.
Marilyn Heiss: Hard to say these days, but her beauty does give her power--the way of the world then and now.
Elaine Cohen: In those days, it clearly was a way to power. (not to speak about today!!)
Marilyn Heiss: She is kind of guilted into it by Mordechai, but yes, it does take “chutzpah”
Samara Sofian: I think she is doing something that she perceives as difficult. It takes courage to do that
Elaine Cohen: He was a very imperious monarch and we already know from Vashti's experience that he could be ruthless, so I think it was courageous.
Marilyn Heiss: She does have to overcome fear
Erin Mahony: Wasn't the punishment for appearing before the king without being summoned death?
Marilyn Heiss: Plus she makes a point to invite Haman, the kingpin
Marilyn Heiss: I could make a cast for times of intense need, you need to do what you need to do.
Naomi Sandberg: She also was likely afraid that if she is found out to be Jewish would she be in trouble for hiding it?
Samara Sofian: I think she is both. Often when someone is being strategic there is need to manipulate the situation to achieve the strategic goal
Samara Sofian: I don't necessarily think that manipulation is a bad thing
Lynn Anne Cutler: women took their power where they could find it
Marilyn Heiss: In that society, she may need to be manipulative to be strategic because that was how she could have power.

Next, Etta introduced Bella Abzug—a groundbreaking 20th Century feminist and politician. Etta explained that we were comparing Bella to Esther because they both used their appearance to gain power and influence. She also invited participants to think about the similarities and differences between the two powerful women.

Miriam Cantor-Stone: And she started wearing fabulous hats even at that young age! :)
Marilyn Heiss: Her hats were her trademark :)
Marilyn Heiss: She was also a “big” woman--tall, broad and loud. A different side of the the manipulative/strategic question. She used what she had to make a point.
Marilyn Heiss: She was also part of the group of Jewish women who had a yearly women's seder... the story of this is in Esther Bronner's “The Telling”
Lynn Anne Cutler: love her sense of humor
Marilyn Heiss: They both used appearance to get noticed
Samara Sofian: both understood that their appearance makes a different in the way that people respond to them
Lynn Anne Cutler: neither originally went out thinking about their looks, though - they sort of figure it out or had to figure it out
Marilyn Heiss: For both Esther's beauty or Bella's hats, there still is a need to be taken seriously, which both those things can undermine.
Marilyn Heiss: Yes
Samara Sofian: Not “Dressing the part” can cause one to be dismissed or not taken seriously
Lynn Anne Cutler: well, “prettying up” with the other girls is what got esther into the palace
Marilyn Heiss: There's also not wanting to be stereotyped
Lynn Anne Cutler: sometimes it is easier to change from the inside than from the outside - you need to conform enough to 'get in' before you can start getting changes made
Samara Sofian: sometimes it is not appropriate to try to fit a part
Marilyn Heiss: Bella did get typed as a “New York broad”
Samara Sofian: trying to fit in with teens by dressing like them
Lynn Anne Cutler: we had discussion a few weeks ago (parasha) about the function/fashion of the priests
Marilyn Heiss: The issue of how one is seen, how one dresses can be brought into Torah study when talking about what the high priests had to wear...maybe bringing some sense to that
Lynn Anne Cutler: this could be an extension of that discussion
Marilyn Heiss: Great minds, Lynn :)
Samara Sofian: wearing of tallit, kippot
Lynn Anne Cutler: :)
Marilyn Heiss: Different dress for different times
Lynn Anne Cutler: would tie in great with the piece from the hhd sermon on the jwa site, about wearing the yarmulke
Samara Sofian: can tie into resistance fighters in Holocaust curriculum
Marilyn Heiss: Dressing in particular ways can help people see who you really are, that you make an effort to be seen a certain way
Marilyn Heiss: But it can also mask who you are
Samara Sofian: look at different ways to resist the “norm”
Samara Sofian: and when does one stand up for the good of the community, even if there is personal risk
Naomi Sandberg: also how it relates to respect
Naomi Sandberg: respect for oneself and the place that you are
Naomi Sandberg: how we dress for services/prayer
Naomi Sandberg: Esther's name was also changed from Hadassah
Miriam Cantor-Stone: Great point, Naomi!
Naomi Sandberg: also looking at famous Jewish Americans who did or didn't change their names to be “less Jewish” sounding
Lynn Anne Cutler: thank you!
Erin Mahony: Thank you!
Marilyn Heiss: Great, as always, Etta
Lynn Anne Cutler: I WANT THE POSTERS! :)
Marilyn Heiss: The posters rock, you all!
Naomi Sandberg: Todah Rabbah Etta- ttyl :)
Miriam Cantor-Stone: Thank you all for joining us!
Samara Sofian: Thank you for a great webinar!

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Chat Log for Queen Esther and Bella Abzug: Costumes, Leadership, and Identity ." (Viewed on October 4, 2023) <>.


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