I think that Purim should be a time to educate people about the strength of Jewish women. But the day has a life of its own. It is a high-speed kind of an experience packed with a dizzying amount of activities; lots of eating and sometimes too much drinking. Every year I find myself frustrated that there is no time to really pause and delve into — or to at least discuss the amazing strength of — Esther and her powerful place in the collective mind of Jewish women for all times. What can you suggest as an activity that would engage people at our Purim celebration about the phenomena of Esther’s impact on Jewish women?
I appreciate your sentiment. Purim is quite the frenzy frenetic festival. By the time the whirlwind of Megillah, mishloach manot, meal and matatnot levyonim, gifts for the poor, are finished — wow! Other holidays seem to have ample time for study, reflection and processing. But short of a radical reconfiguration, there’s not much we can do, so let’s work with the reality of a packed Purim.
Everyone knows about history. Now, in the playful spirit of Purim, I welcome you to H’Esthery, the spirited game that invites you to test your knowledge of extraordinary Esthers in H’Esthery. It is a matching game, asking you to consider the colorful cryptic descriptions below and then match them to the names of 10 Esthers from H’Esthery. No peeking at the answers!
1. I was born in Sioux City in 1955. Few people know that my real name is Esther. They send me many a query addressed to my pseudonym. Asking things like, “Should I break up with my boyfriend?” “Is my mother-in-law too intrusive?” and “What to do about the irritating co-worker,” I followed in the footsteps of the original Esther. I too am a writer, read by over 60 million readers. Who am I?
2. I am the daughter of a cantor and my father always encouraged me musically. At 15 I wanted to emigrate to Palestine, but was thwarted by the Nazis. I was taken to Auschwitz, where I became part of the girl orchestra of Auschwitz and played the accordion. I survived Auschwitz after escaping in March 1945 and finally made it to Palestine. Since the 1980s, I have sung Jewish ghetto and anti-Fascist songs with the musical group “Coincidence,” which I started with my son and daughter. I was awarded the Carl von Ossietzky medal and the Cross of Merit, First Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. I learned fearlessness from that first Esther! Who am I?
3. I was a very successful businesswoman and diplomat. Born in 1530, most would not believe it was I who served as a go-between in the Turkish Court. As a Jewish woman, I was free to move about from the harem to the street and handle the personal and business affairs of the Muslim women of the Royal Court. I even became special friend of Baffa, the favorite wife of Murad III, the Ottomans’ emperor. At my finest moment I served as the negotiating diplomat who translated communications between the Ottomans and Venice, Italy. The trust in me was so great that I was permitted to start a lottery in Venice — the only foreigner allowed to do so! You could say I took after the first Esther! Who am I?
4. I, like the first Esther, had to hide my true identity. My claim to fame? I am the first Jewish female to set foot in Canada! I was the born in 1738 in Brandeau, France and was only allowed into Canada disguised as a young Roman Catholic boy serving onboard a ship bound for Quebec. It was a short masquerade. My religion and gender were soon discovered and as a non-Catholic in a legally Catholic country, I was arrested and taken to the Hôpital Général in Quebec City. Though strongly cajoled, I refused to convert and was deported back to France. Read all about me in a book by Sharon McKay. Which Esther am I?
5. My two brothers are quite famous. Some might be bitter, claiming that they stole the limelight, though I was writing way before either of them. We grew up in a very colorful rabbinic home in Poland. My brothers were given all the education while I was relegated to doing the housework. I loved to read and had to hide my books so no one would know. All I wanted to do was to study and write! My parents married me off to a diamond merchant in Antwerp, but after the war we made our home in London where I continued my work as a writer. Who knew I would one day be the inspiration for a movie starring Barbara Streisand?
6. Queen Esther anointed herself with makeup and oils for an entire year before going in front of Achashverosh. I hope your morning make-up routine is a lot shorter. Perhaps that first Esther was my inspiration to create a line of beauty products known worldwide. I might not rule over 127 provinces, but it certainly feels that way! I have created an empire! But not to worry, I have not forgotten my people – my family supports many a Jewish cause. Who am I?
7. After my parents’ untimely death during the destruction of my homeland, I was adopted, raised in a foreign country, and then brutally kidnapped — yet somehow I summoned up the courage to save the Jewish people. Though I risked my own life, it was beyond worth it — my name is the name of a Fast day and of one of the five scrolls and I am one of the seven prophetesses. You know who I am; how could you not?
8. The Telling, The Morning and Mourning; A Kaddish Journal, The Women’s Haggadah — some might ask where the American Jewish women’s movement would have been without me. I sought to depict the depths and the complexities of the modern American female experience, and that I did! What would Queen Esther say? I am not sure, but I would love to know. Who might I be?
9. Who knew — a Jewish-Arabic journalist and a feminist? I was born in Beirut and began taking part in public affairs in 1893 while teaching at the Scottish Church mission. I was sent to Chicago to represent Lebanon at the International Women’s Conference and began to write. I became very involved in women’s organizations, married, and moved to Cairo, where in 1898 I founded a newspaper. Following that, I helped establish an organization for Jewish women though stayed involved as a journalist. I lived in Marseilles, but moved back to Jaffa in the ’40s. Who am I?
10. Hineni! Here I am! There is no stronger expression for a Jew. After surviving the Holocaust I made it my life’s mission to bring Jews back to Judaism. It was in Madison Square Garden on November 18, 1973 that I took my strongest and most dramatic stand to prevent the silent Holocaust here in America, by starting the worldwide Hineni movement. Just like Esther before me, I am committed to the survival of the Jewish people. Who am I?
Choose from these 10 possible answers:
A. Queen Esther
B. Esther Kiera
C. Esther Brandeau
D. Esther Moyal
E. Esther Jungreis
F. Esther, a.k.a. Estee Lauder
G. Esther Bejarno
H. Esther Krinitz
I. Esther Broner
J. Esther Pauline Lederer, a.k.a. Ann Landers