Sunday, March 04, 2007

21st Century Esther

The Purim of my childhood was definitely a kid event. Okay, maybe because I was a kid at the time. But the Purim I remember was basically a Hebrew School event. I have a dim memory of some evening readings, but not with adults dressed up in costumes, only the kids. I certainly don't have any pictures in my mind of adults drinking in the sanctuary.

Since joining Beth Sholom in 2000, I have been able to celebrate Purim to the fullest, with the participation of both children and adults. This year was no exception. The only difference with years past is that since our building is under construction we joined with the two other Conservative congregations in San Francisco, Ner Tamid and B'nai Emunah, to make it a community event. But most of us--from the youngest to the oldest--were decked out in some semblance of a costume. And many of the adults were tasting different sorts of alcoholic beverages that were making the rounds. After all, the Talmud says you are supposed to drink until you can't tell the difference between "cursed is Haman" and "blessed is Mordechai."I will say, quite modestly of course, that my etrog infused vodka was particularly tasty this year. We had a costume parade accompanied by our very own community klezmer band, a Purim shpiel put on by the religious school students that was a hoot, and the reading of the Megillat Esther with the requisite noisemaking to drown out the name of the evil Haman.

At Beth Sholom we read the Megillah at morning minyan once again. It is important, since the tradition says that every Jew should hear the megillah read each year, and many either can't come in the evening or, like me, prefer to concentrate on the festivities rather than the story. We also chant Torah on Purim morning--the verses from Exodus in which the Israelites prevail against the attack of Amalek just after they cross the Red Sea (Ex17:8 - 15).

Although I was almost called into service this year, I have managed to get away with not yet learning the trope for Megillat Esther. I would much rather celebrate in the evening with no responsibilities. So for the morning service I volunteer to read Torah each year. The service itself is usually a low key affair--no costumes, although we still make noise to blot out Haman's name.

This morning, I decided to go in costume. There was something empowering for me to have "Queen Esther" read the Torah--in tefillin, no less. In many ways, I stood there for all the little Jewish girls who dress up like Esther on Purim--a most popular Purim costume for many generations past and one that I dare say will continue for generations to come. But when I was a young Esther there was no Torah reading for me. I wasn't counted in minyan or allowed an aliyah.

The girls and women of today can have that access to our traditions. I often wish it had happened sooner--my life path might have taken a very different route. But at least it happened soon enough for me to partake fully in the practice of Judaism, and to help the next generation of Jewish women to fully realize their spiritual potential within this rich tradition.

So to all the young Esthers out there, I say...



Anonymous said...

But it is not a FULL costume until you depart from tradition and go to the bimah in full Minnie Mouse regalia! Queen Esthers are a dime a dozen, we need more variety in Purim costume garb.

Divah said...

Point well taken. Esther is an easy one for me to put together from clothes that I already own, but I've done the Minnie Mouse thing before and it's a good idea for next year.

Minnie Mouse reading Torah--now there's a photo op :)