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Women’s Day, Esther and Jewish Community Leadership

Wednesday March 8th is International Women’s Day.  Ironically this weekend Jews around the world will observe Purim–whose main character is the good Queen Esther one of the most famous women in the Bible.  Esther who at first hides her Jewish identity marries the Persian King named  Ahashuerus but comes to the aid of the Jewish people when the king’s evil Prime Minister Haman plots to murder the Jews and in particular kill Esther’s uncle Mordechai who is the leader of the Jewish community in the capital city of Shushan (Susa).  Esther literally pleads for her people’s lives because Haman had gotten the king to sign a royal decree condemning the Jews and permitting their genocide.

The King who clearly loves Esther is portrayed as a buffoon, who doesn’t really know what is happening before his very eyes grants Esther’s request for safety for herself and her people.  Haman is hung on the very gallows he erected for Uncle Mordechai and the Jews are allowed to defend themselves against the forces that Haman had put into place.  The Jews of Persia and Media fight for their very lives and prevail.

The story of Purim in this time of increased Antisemitism in America has special poignancy.  The President and his minions have unleashed forces of hatred in America that has caused now more than 120 bomb threats to Jewish community centers, Jewish organizations, synagogues and day schools.  We see anti-Muslim rhetoric from the White House itself, increased arson at mosques and an anti-immigrant fervor in the US which we have seen since the early 1920’s. When fear is the tool used to whip up dissent among the masses, this is the result.

And oh yes did I mention the backlash against women and women’s health care concerns and reproductive health?

The story of Purim is more relevant that ever.  Who will speak up? Who will come forward even at great risk? Who wil be a patriot for the people as Esther was?

The Jewish community should also take note that with International Women’s Day, until more women are the paid executives of leading Jewish organizations and not just the Jewish Women’s Organizations and more of the mainstream organizational boards are chaired by women the misogyny that is evident even in the Jewish world will continue.

Even though women make up most of the Jewish Federation’s work force in the US the only major city to have a woman as its CEO is Philadelphia.  And even though there is a woman who chairs the board of AIPAC, Lillian Pinkus, and the Union for Reform Judaism, Daryl Messinger there are still entire pockets of the Jewish community where there are still meetings that are only men.  That is shameful.  Just look at the picture below… what’s wrong with it.

jewish men sitting around the table

Just look at this picture from Ha’aretz magazine March 3 in a meeting of Jewish leaders with FBI head Comey discussing the recent bomb threats.  NO WOMEN.  Yes, Queen Esther we still have a long way to go.

Happy Purim