Photo right: A young Blake dressed as Queen Esther for Purim.
Everyone knows the old joke about Jewish holidays and why we celebrate them. It goes: "They tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat!" The story applies to Hanukkah and Passover, but it is perhaps most suitable for Purim, the holiday where we commemorate one woman's bravery that saved the Jewish people of Persia from destruction. On Purim, we remember that one Jew has the power to single-handedly prevent the story of the Jewish people from ending. That "one Jew" is Queen Esther, who is rightfully enshrined as one of the most important figures in our culture.
Purim means a lot of different things to different people. For some, it is an excuse to get unbelievably intoxicated, dress up in fun costumes, rattle groggers and boo Haman's name, and eat delicious Hamantaschen. While it was these customs that originally sparked my interest in Purim from a very young age, Purim remains my favorite Jewish holiday for more personal reasons. Queen Esther revealed herself to be Jewish at a time when being Jewish was very dangerous, and very unpopular. The audacity to proclaim a Jewish identity could have meant untold horrors for Esther and her people, and yet she understood that there was simply no alternative. To do nothing, Esther knew, as the fate of the Jews of Persia hung in the balance, would have been worse than any possible outcome.
As a Jewish activist who fights against antisemitism every single day in my writing and on social media, I take heart from the Purim story, which teaches us that standing up for your people is always the best way forward regardless of the consequences. Throughout Jewish history, there have been moments where it seems easier to wait out the storm, to compromise our identity, and to dream of a brighter future that is just around the corner. Tragically, this seldom works out for us. Jews are most successful when we take our destiny into our own hands and when we demand respect, something young children are taught when reading The Megillah.
While this Purim may be lacking in the customary festive gatherings full of singing and costumes and drinking, hopefully we can take heart in the story of Queen Esther, and safely celebrate Purim by honoring the spirit of the Jewish people and our insistence on survival.