Queen Esther’s Fast

Now you have a dramatic new way to celebrate one of the few holidays on the Jewish calendar where the key player is a woman. Kolot, the Center for Jewish Women’s & Gender Studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, this year launched Ta’anit Esther: The Jewish Day of Justice, reclaiming a part of the Purim ritual to call attention to the sexual exploitation of women. Ta’anit Esther, the Fast of Esther, marked the day before Purim, commemorates Queen Esther’s fast before she implored the King to save the lives of Persia’s Jews. For over a decade, Kolot has used the occasion of Ta’anit Esther to explore issues from sex-trade trafficking to the plight of women in Afghanistan. For Purim 2008, Kolot launched a pilot program, with support from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, focused on the issue of HIV/AIDS in Africa, featuring Dr. Mardge Cohen, described as “a modern-day Esther.” Cohen’s research and practice are devoted to the social and medical issues faced by women with HIV.

“We saw Ta’anit Esther as a wonderful possibility for infusing a traditional holiday with contemporary relevance,” Kolot director Lori Lefkowitz told Lilith. “Esther spoke truth to power, and that’s extremely contemporary, but it’s also a restoration of meaning to this holiday. Purim is a holiday with a heroine, and we want to redefine, using a Jewish idiom, what heroism is for Jewish women. Our mission, really, is to get every community to celebrate a contemporary Esther every year.”

For more information on bringing Ta’anit Esther to your community, go to www.kolot.org.