Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem

Let’s have a revolution

The catch-phrase of the Festival of Purim is “na’afoch hu” – things are not what they seem.  What we perceive as a cause might be an effect and vice-versa. We need to overturn our thinking.

It is a call to change our perspective and, as a result, to change our actions.

Purim is a call to revolution.

At the core of the revolution is the status of women. The story that the Megillah tells can be summarised in four sentences*. A beautiful and proud queen refuses to accede to the command of the king, who wants to put her on display to men at a drunken party. The king disposes of her and rules that from that point on, women in his vast kingdom have to obey their husbands. That same king is easily manipulated by evil and foolish advisers, including the wicked Haman who wants to kill all the Jews. The queen he takes to replace the rebellious one, Esther, is able to reverse his rulings and take control of the kingdom.

*(A fifth sentence is that Haman seems to also be under the control of an evil woman – his wife, Zeresh.)

The king believes at the beginning of the Megillah that he can control women; by the end of the Megillah he is being controlled by one. (I might add that he doesn’t seem to notice.)

Despite that, after our Megillah reading, we sing to Esther’s uncle, Mordechai. True, he was also a hero of the story, having forewarned Esther of what she needed to do. But why is our song not lauding Esther, who risked her life for the benefit of the nation? Why does the bulk of the praise go to the men? Why is the story we tell ourselves so often about the men? Is it because we have not heeded the call to see things differently?

From my childhood, I remember the line, “behind every successful man there is a great woman.” If we heed to the message of Purim, we need to understand that things are not what they seem and to put what appears to be “behind” into the foreground.

This is not necessarily easy to do. For centuries, many women did not place themselves in the public eye or record their achievements. Those who wanted to influence society sometimes masqueraded as men. Women who took on a public role were accused of not being feminine. The achievements of women as mothers and as teachers or nurses were not valued.

It can be difficult to research and uncover the names and the stories of the women who changed the world. We have to dig deep.

The Mishna urges us to “hafoch ba v’hafoch ba” – the same word as “na’afoch”. It means dig deep. It is urging us never to stop investigating, studying and uncovering new layers of meaning. If we take up the challenge, we can succeed in revolutionising our understanding of the past and ensure that we don’t see the present and the future in the same way.

When we tell our Jewish story or our Israeli story, we need to highlight the influence and the achievements of women. We need to make sure that our history is also “herstory.”

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.
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