On Purim night, for the eleventh year in a row, I will be chanting portions of Megillat Esther for a women’s only reading at The Stanton Street Shul, a modern Orthodox synagogue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Every year I feel a special privilege to be able to participate in what is still, to my knowledge, the only such megillah reading by women and for women in Lower Manhattan. But this year feels especially important. First, because it will be my first Purim as the mother of a daughter. Suddenly I evaluate everything I do in relation to what kind of example I am setting for her. Second, because in our current political moment—a bitterly divided country, religious and ethnic minorities being openly targeted, and a president with authoritarian inclinations— both the lessons of the Purim story and the lessons I have learned from reading that story aloud feel especially relevant.
When we began the Stanton Women’s Megillah reading, back in 2006, I was a newly married 24-year-old, just beginning to find my identity as an adult while still living in the same neighborhood and the same Jewish community in which I had grown up. Stanton was not the shul I had attended as a child but the one I chose to join as a grown-up. I liked Stanton because it was laid-back and eclectic, a place where everyone seemed to be accepted no matter how strictly they observed outside of shul, or how closely they hewed to the normative Orthodox mold.