The Esther/Vashti Purim Flag

The new tradition of waving a flag when Esther and Vashti's names are mentioned celebrates the triumph of these Purim heroines.

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I began this essay by pointing out that Megillat Esther has been seen as a fantasy of Jewish power that emerged in a time of Jewish powerlessness. We who read the megillah in a time of unprecedented Jewish power both in the State of Israel and in the United States, are thus in need of ritual ways of wrestling with the megillah in order to figure out its meaning for our time. As feminists committed to honoring Esther's leadership, we cannot ignore the fact that it is Esther who asks the king for an additional day on which the Jews can kill their enemies--"the armed force together with women and children" (Esther 8.11, 9.13). While we proudly wave a flag bearing her name, we must challenge ourselves to find a way to celebrate Esther's power without necessarily endorsing the violence she authorizes. Perhaps this is another reason for our pairing of Esther and Vashti--once we link the stories of this Jewish and non-Jewish queen we are on the way to recognizing the linked fates of their peoples. When we unite Esther who ends up as a powerful queen with Vashti who by the end of the story is absent and therefore powerless, we can begin to grasp the necessity of balancing the need to exercise power with the need to share it.

It is time for us to make room in our myths and in our communities for more than one model of leadership. It is time for us to learn from both Esther and Vashti, from both the Jewish women in our texts and the non-Jewish women (and men). It is time to celebrate women's power and to question the ways we have wielded it over others. And, with humor and deep conviction, it is time for us to take the holiday of Purim and, through new ritual, use it to tell our community a new story about who we are, what we value, and what we need to do to build a better world.

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Tamara Cohen

Tamara Cohen is a Jewish feminist writer and educator currently living with her partner is Gainesville, Florida. She is the spiritual leader of a community in Litchfield County, CT and is on the board of Brit Tzedek V'Shalom: The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.