Tracey Shipley
Youth, family and addictions counselor/creative therapist/band organizer and manager/event producer/writer

The Fast of Esther, Our Matriarchs, Italian Coffee, music and Great Pancakes

Cafe Merkaz celebrates the break fast


Queen Esther concerned about approaching the King. Free Adobe Stock photo

One of the things I love most about Judaism is that we celebrate our Matriarchs as well as our Patriarchs, recognizing them as being pivotal figures in Jewish history.  Sarah, Abraham’s wife, the Founding Matriarch of Judaism, is legendary for her faithfulness to God, and her commitment to her husband Abraham. Sarah was known for balancing her characteristics of being authoritative yet submissive and fearless yet loving. Not easy combinations to pull off I might add. She honored Abraham’s need for an Open Tent welcoming any passersby. Rivkah, Isaac’s wife, our next Matriarch however understood that her husband was a private man who chose a life of solitude, meditating and praying therefore she honored his need to not continue in the “Open Tent” tradition of Abraham and Sarah.

One of the virtues I admire most in Rivkah was that she was raised by people who were immoral and untrustworthy yet rather than using it as an excuse to behave the same she saw the importance of living a worthy life and was excited to marry Isaac and become a member of our tribe. Rivkah displayed the ability to thrive despite adversity and due to her familiarity with unrighteous people, recognized the difference between her two sons, Jacob and Esau, and saw to it that Jacob received the blessing and became the head of the Jewish people.

The story of Leah, the next Matriarch in line, married to Jacob is complicated. No one wants to be the second choice in a marriage and having to hide her identity to get her future husband to agree to marry her must have been beyond humiliating. I know that she was awarded the joy of giving birth to many children whereas her sister Rachel, the real love of Jacob’s life was only awarded two sons and actually died in childbirth, but I find it hard to believe that that made up for the feeling that she married a man who did not desire her. Our last Matriarch, Rachel was put in an impossible situation. She actually agreed to allow her sister to impersonate her at the “Huppah” leading to Jacob, marrying Leah. Upon reading up on Rachel much is said about her being spoiled due to her father brandishing her with many riches, however, giving up your beloved for your father’s cunning desires to take advantage of Jacob’s ability to work for him for another seven years does not sound spoiled to me. Rachel is also known for her weeping over the children of Israel generations after her death. How ironic that Leah was blessed with so many children and Rachel who did not, seemed to use her need to nourish and care for children by continuing to weep for the yet unborn children of Israel in need of compassion.

Ok, so after this long dissertation on our four matriarchs I arrive at the real point of this article, Queen Esther and the fast dedicated to her. There are so many stories about Esther but the characteristic that I love the most is bravery. She knew that the previous queen lost her head when she disobeyed the king by refusing to “strut her stuff” in front of his guests. Quite admirable in my eyes, apparently not for the King. With this knowledge, Esther still volunteered to stand in line with other beauties in the hopes of being chosen as his Queen at the behest of Mordechai, her adopted father. I imagine he believed it would be good for the Jewish people which of course in the end it turned out to be, a real understatement I might add.

After being chosen as the Queen over the other women Esther hid her Judaism until Haman, the King’s advisor vowed to kill the Jewish people. Mordechai bade her to approach the King without an official invitation, unheard of and at the risk of being beheaded as the queen before her, to reveal being a Jew stating that if all of the Jews were to be killed she would be amongst them. Knowing she needed the support of God for this endeavor she chose to pray asking for his assistance while fasting for three days and asked the Jewish people to do the same. Unable to undo his own decree the King could not stop the order however allowed to Jews to bear arms and once again we defeated our enemies.

If I consider the trait that I admire the most in the Jewish people and quite often in Jewish women, it would be courage. Though beauty is celebrated in the bible as an important virtue I believe that little girls dressing up as Queen Esther on Purim should actually wear the costume of a warrior. She, in her brave actions, saved the Jewish people from what was to be a massacre. Of course, we believe that God had a lot to do with it but as we know, the word God does not even appear in the story of Esther, it is hidden. I think that this exemplifies our partnership with God. He is the force behind all things but we are the warriors slated to do his bidding.

So once again, this year many of us will honor Esther’s memory by fasting not three days but one. And true to Jewish tradition, the break-fast should be celebrated with much fanfare. So, Thursday March 21st, 2024 Café Mercaz, 41 Haneviim Street in Jerusalem, will not only continue its weekly Open Mic event, featuring Jordan Zell shown in the attached video, it will also be serving pancakes of all types beginning at 6:30pm with syrups normally used in their special coffee drinks ranging from salted caramel to maple and more. Add to the celebration, the best coffee and coffee drinks in the city which include my personal favorite- Kalua. Join us!!

Cafe Merkaz photo by Yaakov Saly
ODK syrups used to make Cafe Merkaz coffee uniquely delicious
Photo taken by Moshe Davis
About the Author
Tracey Shipley is a youth and family counselor specializing in addictions and family communication. She was born in the US and moved to Israel in 1984 to continue her studies in Art Therapy. She moved back to the US in 1989 and began working in a drug rehab for teens where she was trained while she worked as a primary counselor. She moved back to Israel in 1996 and continued her work in addictions at the Jerusalem Methadone Clinic for a total of 9 years. She initiated projects for the children of the addicts at the Methadone Clinic, Established a program for Ethiopian Teens educating them about their culture and opened the Jerusalem School of Rock program which helps to create teen rock bands and established monthly teen music events at downtown venues where teens perform for their friends in a teen friendly exciting atmosphere. In addtion to her projects Tracey was the English Speaking Volunteer Coordinator for Emunah Jerusalem succeeding in bringing in more funds and volunteers than ever before. Tracey organizes monthly Rock Festivals and manages rock bands young and old. Tracey also writes for Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post.
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