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Pamela Laufer-Ukeles
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Megillat Esther, in the shadow of the female hostages

This year, the Purim story is an account of our beautiful women in captivity
'Esther,' by 19th century Hermann Anschütz. (screenshot, YouTube)
'Esther,' by 19th century Hermann Anschütz. (screenshot, YouTube)

This Purim, it is incredibly difficult to rejoice. My mind is consumed by the hostages in general and the female hostages, in particular. It is unbearable. When I fast this year, on the Fast of Esther, it will be for them – for our beautiful girls/women in captivity. It is customary to have “plays” to celebrate Purim and that tell the Purim story. This year, there is one skit that keeps playing in my head. It is a play in four acts, representing the four stages of being a woman stolen on October 7. I regret having to share it – but I feel that I must.

Act 1:

In this act, we begin with chaos and defiance.

As the Hamas terrorists flood into Israel, the female soldiers, music festival participants, residents of the communal farming villages in the Gaza envelope, refuse! They shoot their guns, they run for their lives, they do whatever is in their power to escape, to hide, to fight, to kill.

Like Vashti, they refuse to uncover themselves despite the power on display before them, demanding their subservience. They are wounded, they are beaten but they fight for their lives, for their dignity, for their souls. The stories of survival are great. The fight is brave, and it is worthy of praise, but, alas, many are defeated by their captors.

And all those girls, children, women, and men are taken into captivity — banished from their homes — deep into the morass of Gaza.

Act 2:

After a valiant fight, for many to the death, the hostages are now in Gaza. Wounded, beaten, raped, abused and afraid.

Now the girls, the women, have no choice but to surrender to their captors, to do as they are told. Like Esther, they are paraded for all to see. Looked upon as prizes to be had and to demonstrate the power of the rulers.

No longer able to object, they are now part of a horrible system of tunnels, of houses, of families, of terrorists, of guards, who watch over them, who direct their every move. Like Esther, they dress as they are told to dress; they wash and eat as directed by those who orchestrate their comings and goings. The defiance is now turned to subservience as they are part of a horrible plot, so much larger than themselves, although they are at the center of the whirlwind of horrors.

The clash of civilizations, and the suffering of the Jewish people at the hands of their enemies is a big story — the daily, minute by minute suffering of the hostages is quiet and hidden, just as Esther’s suffering in being married to a strange king is not even mentioned against the large horror of Haman’s plot to kill the Jewish people.

Act 3:

What does it mean to be faced with a captor, a sovereign, a man who has total power over a woman? Who, in a moment, can decree her death, force himself upon her, and torture her in unfathomable ways?

When Esther was asked to save the Jews by approaching King Achashverosh without being called, a man who would have all the power to do anything to her he wanted at the moment of her unsolicited approach, she was so scared she asked the entire Jewish people to fast for three days and pray for her survival.

We can imagine her trembling approach to the king, full of fear in the face of the power he wielded over her. Our hostages face this power day in and day out, trembling as they are asked to do the unthinkable, hoping to survive, but also not sure survival is possible or worthwhile.

I imagine every minute is an eternity. Every silenced scream, a deep thunderous moment of agony. I imagine the tears that turn inward into shuddering, a fear that seems to have no end.

When we fast for Esther this year, we should fast for the hostages as well — all the hostages — but in the shadow of the Book of Esther, for the female hostages suffering at the hands of their male captors, especially. Sadly, it is here, this year, that the story ends… with unredeemed devastation and tragedy. What is there to celebrate?

Act 4:

We must pray that this last act is yet to come — and soon! And now! Just as Megillat Esther ends with Esther, Mordechai, and the Jews being given permission to fight back, to redeem themselves, we pray that our hostages will be released, and, despite all the damage that has already been done and cannot be erased, given a chance to find a way forward, to fight for their own souls.

In this act, we will want to rejoice because our fate will have finally turned around, but, like the Jews in the lands of Achashverosh, first we will have to fight to save ourselves from our enemies and from the demons they have been instilled within us — everyone of us — but our hostages especially. The fear and terror that keeps us awake every night. And, then, after we fight, we can rejoice, and bury our demons deep underground.

In this fourth act, we need to reclaim our freedom and reclaim the joy of Purim. It is a complicated part of the story and we long for its coming. Until then, what do we have to celebrate?

About the Author
Pamela Laufer-Ukeles is Professor of Law and Health Systems Administration at the Academic College of Law and Science in Hod Hasharon, teaching feminist legal theory, bioethics, health care reform, and elder law among other subjects. 
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