Valeria Chazin

How the Story of Purim Can Inspire Activism for Our Community

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A timeless message is what makes valued writings and traditions pass from generation to generation. This week, as we celebrate the holiday of Purim and the magnificent story of the Megillah, I would like to refer to what I find as one of the most interesting parts of the scroll. It is the conversation between Mordecai and Queen Esther, after Mordecai discovers that Haman plots to annihilate the Jewish people in the Persian Empire ruled by King Ahasuerus.

In a scene described in chapter 4, Mordechai and Esther are dealing with a situation that highlights the moral obligation versus the hesitation of a person to act for one’s own people. When Mordecai finds out about Haman’s plan, he reaches out to Esther, asking her to influence the king to undo the evil of the decree.

Esther, however, is hesitant at first. She replies to Mordecai explaining that according to the rules of the kingdom no one is allowed to speak to the king without prior invitation, and it has been 30 days since she was last invited. At this point of the story, the king also does not know that she is Jewish.

In today’s day and age, as in prior trying times in history, such hesitation to act on behalf of your community despite dealing with a major challenge or danger is something that many people can relate to.

We’ve all seen news filled with warnings about the dangerous rise of antisemitism on a global level, and heard of Jewish people and community organizations being attacked. We also notice how Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, is dealing with unprecedented levels of hate and attempts to undermine the very legitimacy of its existence.

These challenges are major. They may feel it is a problem greater than what one person can individually deal with. In such a situation, some may be inclined to hide their Jewish identity. Others may just want to keep going about their daily routine ignoring the issues, or finding reasons not to engage despite having the understanding that what we are facing needs to be addressed.

After hearing Esther’s answer, Mordechai delivers a strong message. First, he tells her that despite being in the palace, she should not think she will be safer than any of the other Jews. This message resonates with the reality where we see how those who hate the Jewish community do not differentiate between Jewish people on the basis of personal opinions or where they live, but generalize and direct their actions to all Jews.

The second part of Mordecai’s words sounds as attempting to speak to her moral cautiousness. In plain language the biblical sentence says “If you remain silent in this moment, the Jews will find salvation from another place, you and your father’s house will perish, and who knows if it is not for a time like this that you’ve reached the kingship.”

The powerful issues raised by Mordecai deal with deep topics and questions that Esther, or anyone, need to answer for themselves. Does one remain silent despite witnessing the unfolding of atrocities? If I will not act, will someone else actually do something? What will be one’s personal faith? Importantly, what is my role, or obligation, at this time and place?

Following these words from Mordecai, Queen Esther responds with her consent to take action. She proceeds with approaching the king and the plot of the story takes a turn in favor of the Jewish people. During a banquet Esther organized, she reveals to the king she is Jewish and asks for him to cancel Haman’s plans against her people, and the rest is the history of our celebration of the Purim holiday.

Notably, before Esther acts, she asks Mordecai for just one thing, to gather the Jews of Shushan, the kingdom’s capital, and have them fast for three days for her while she will also fast. It is important to observe that while one person can work up the courage to act in a difficult situation, communal encouragement and support can play a vital role in providing individuals with inspiration and motivation to do so.

This Purim, while celebrating the ancient story of Jewish survival in the Persian Empire, we should also reflect on the challenges our people face in modern days. Hopefully, it can inspire us to increase our activism for our community, each person from within the position they are able to do so.

Whether Queen Esther from the palace, Mordecai through his connection to Esther, or the Jews of Shushan on the streets of the city; Whether a leader of an organization, a student on college campus, or a member of the Jewish community at large – each of our individual actions makes a difference, and collectively can influence the future of our people.

About the Author
Valeria Chazin is the co-founder and board of directors chair of Students Supporting Israel. She is a speaker on topics of Israel and Zionism, and an activist in the Jewish community.
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