Recasting the Purim Narrative

Biblical stories have been told and retold to fit the present. The Exodus story and modern liberation struggles. Kierkegaard and the Binding of Isaac. Right now, the Purim story is neatly paralleled. We have an Achashverosh as the leader of our nation who appointed Haman as his chief strategist. A Jewish figure close to said ruler (daughter or son-in-law) could be Esther. Even the details, misogyny and love of beauty pageants, match.

Like the name of God, the views of the citizens of Shushan are left out of the Purim megillah. But we know the response of the majority of Americans who did not vote for Donald Trump. Immediately following November 8, tens of thousands poured into the streets in cities across the country to protest Trump and his policies, as well as the process that handed him the presidency. “The whole damn system is guilty as hell,” chanted the crowds alongside chants like “No more deportations,” “My body, my choice” and “Black lives matter.”

As each terrifying Trump appointee has been announced —Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Tom Price, Betsy DeVos—the need for an organized response increases. At this moment in the megillah, our Esther-figure would say “but I’m a Jew,” and we Jews would be saved.

It’s worth mentioning that there is a lesser-known part of the story. The text reads: “The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them” (Book of Esther 9:5). A simple reading of this might tell a tale of justice—Haman, after all, is impaled on his own pole. I offer a different, admittedly imperfect rendering. An awakened bigotry cannot easily be put back to sleep. Violence was promised, so violence must be delivered. “No document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked” (Esther 8:8).

When Trump’s policies fail, he will need someone to blame. Even if an Esther-like figure manages to put an end to Trump’s use of anti-Semitic tropes, our story will not end like the Purim story. Trump will not be able to satisfy the bigotry he has fueled by turning on the “alt-right” that gave him power. Instead, Trump will almost certainly continue to target those he is already targeting —immigrants, refugees, Muslims, unions, women.

Given this, even if those close to Trump pull an Esther, I will continue to resist this presidency. I plan on doing this with my actions every day before January 20th, on January 20th itself, and in the years that follow. Not just because it is an ethical imperative—though it is. Not just because many Jews will continue to be targeted—we are not a mono-identity people —though that is true as well. I will continue to resist because 2016 has made me understand and believe the adage that none of us are free until we all are. Globally, the right wing is ascending as neo-liberalism is collapsing under its own weight. This force cannot be countered alone. We need multi-racial coalitions fighting against bigotry and for economic justice if we want to have a better world.

Esther’s Purim story does not offer this vision. Ivanka and Jared won’t save us. Silence won’t save us. But we can save ourselves. It’s time to write our own megillah.

Amelia Dornbush is Lilith’s Malka Foundation Fellow.