Purim is behind us. The kitchen counter is littered with nosh from lavish Purim baskets. There’s a lingering ringing in your ear from the boo’s shouted at Haman, and a faint whisper of inspiration lingering in your heart from the heroic acts of Esther and Mordechai.
Perhaps the most pivotal moment in the Megillah story is when Esther is hesitant to approach King Ahasuerus on behalf of the Jewish people because she might be killed for entering the Royal Court uninvited. She is so scared for her own safety that Mordechai must rouse her to action by suggesting that perhaps her whole life was building up to this very moment. Esther is convinced by his argument and three days later she enters the Court to confront the King.
Is she beheaded? No. Burned alive? No. Thrown into a pit of lions, or snakes, or lions that shoot snakes out of their mouths? Nope. She’s warmly greeted by the King. Before she can say a thing he asks, “What troubles you, Queen Esther? And what is your request? Even to half the kingdom it shall be granted you.” He’s magnanimous!
She had vastly underestimated her power and influence with the King. She entered unsure whether he would even spare her life, and discovered that he was prepared to give her half his kingdom! She had been blessed with a life of riches and royal influence that she didn’t fully appreciate, and had to be reminded that “perhaps you have attained this royal position for just such a crisis.”
American Jews today suffer from a similar lack of self-awareness. We too have achieved lofty stations for a purpose, and too frequently we forget how even our smallest actions can have great consequences. The American Jewish community has wealth and political influence that is significantly disproportionate to our population. We have the opportunity to engage in activism and philanthropy that can have a real impact on the world we live in and people who we may not always realize are our global neighbors.
Just such an opportunity is at hand. Today, International Women’s Day, marks the reintroduction to Congress of the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). While protection of women and girls from gender-based violence is currently a part of US foreign policy by executive order, IVAWA would cement it into law.
There is a narrow window of opportunity for passing this legislation before the next election cycle begins. You can learn more about getting IVAWA passed on the website for the AJWS We Believe campaign. Please take a minute to call your congressional representatives and ask them to support the International Violence Against Women Act.
An estimated one out of every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime. In some countries, the numbers are even more devastating, with seven in 10 women experiencing significant forms of violence.This legislation would ensure that the US government remains focused on this important issue.
Who knows? Perhaps for just such a crisis you have been elevated to this position.
Still not sure about why IVAWA is important? Spend 4 minutes watching Theresa’s story and realize that one crucial part of the bill will direct funding to local non-profits like the one that helped her escape an abusive husband.
The following is adapted from the drasha (sermon) delivered by Rori Picker Neiss at Bais Abraham Congregation, St Louis, MO on November 17, 2013, Shabbat Parshat Vayeitzei. Rori serves as Director of Programming, Education and Community Engagement at Bais Abraham as she completes her studies at Yeshivat Maharat.
I used to think that the Torah was a story of God, and, as such, was a story of heroes, of bravery, and of goodness. Perhaps that is how my teachers had wanted me to see it. I learned of the heroism of Noah, who saved humanity from total extinction. I learned of the bravery of Abraham, who argued with God in defense of the wicked people of Sodom and Gemorrah. I learned of the never-ending compassion that God displays towards the Jewish people.
The Torah is not a story of God, though; it is a story of humans. While humans can be heroic, brave, and good, they can also be corrupt, oppressive, and depraved.
There is one story in the Torah in particular that we often slide right past. It is a story we do not like to teach in schools, and one we often do not want to discuss openly. It is a story that is not easy to tell, but one that we need to tell. It is a story of corruption, of oppression, and of depravity. Continue reading