Sisters in Arms

Elisa Albert, author of The Book of Dahlia and How This Night is Different, writes for Tablet Magazine about how “playing the defiant Vashti in a day school Purim play awakened [her] inner feminist.”

A couple of thousand years after Haman was sent to his death for trying to persuade King Ahasuerus to execute all the Jews in his kingdom, a motley group of fifth- and sixth-graders at Temple Emanuel Community Day School of Beverly Hills (motto: “Living Judaism!”) pulled out all the stops on a Purim musical revue spectacular.

We all wanted to be Esther, of course, the heroic, beautiful, self-sacrificing beloved of the King. The ingénue savior of the Jews, and so thin from all her fasting! She was going to get to wear a dirndl and sing a re-lyricized “My Favorite Things.” Second choice would have been to play a member of Esther’s harem, biblical pole-dancers with veils, MC Hammer pants, exposed midriffs, sequins. Ahasuerus, surrounded by his minions and ogling a parade of bachelorettes, was given to breaking the fourth wall, winking at the audience, and exclaiming, a la Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the king!”

I was cast as Vashti and was, at best, ambivalent about it. She was the shrew. The cast-off first wife, a mere footnote to the story of Esther’s bravery and the salvation of the Jewish people. My costume was a modest polyester gown and my big number was “I’m Gonna Wash That King Right Out of My Hair.” I was last seen on stage protesting the beauty pageant, pacing back and forth downstage, alone, with a large sign that read WOMEN UNITE!

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Related: ‘Commentary’: Feminists Are Ruining Purim