Recasting the story of Purim for 2018

How the Jewish holiday of Purim feels very relevant to the current climate
By Avital Norman Nathman  Published on 03/01/2018 at 12:00 PM EDT

It’s Purim, one of my favorite Jewish holidays, a raucous celebration with masks, noise-makers, feasts, and drinking… while reading a fairly subversive and feminist tale, the story of Esther. Every year I find new ways to connect this biblical tale to the present, and with the Trump administration in full swing, this post almost wrote itself.

The Story of Esther is a tale as old as time (or at least as old as the Bible). The not-so-bright King of Persia has his first wife Vashti killed because she refuses to strip for his friends. He holds a contest in order to find his new queen. He chooses Esther, a young Jewish girl. However, the king’s evil advisor hates the Jews, plots ensue, plans are foiled, and spoiler alert: Esther saves the day — and the Jews! Luckily, Mayim created a video explaining all about the holiday! Check it out below and make sure to look out for our own Queen Esther (Kustanowitz) in the role of Vashti.  

One Purim tradition is to create a “shpiel,” a dramatized, and usually very comedic, take on the Story of Esther. Some groups will act out the story faithfully to the text, while others find ways to inject extra humor into it. I’ve seen shpiels that use pop culture or even politics to round out the cast of characters as they portray the story of how a young girl finds a way to topple the evil empire.

So let’s pour a little Manischewitz wine and get this party started.

King Achashverosh: King of Persia, on the hunt for a new wife after having the first killed off.

2018 Version: Donald Trump

Is there really any other option? A King who lives in ridiculous opulence and enjoys extravagant parties while tragedy occurs around him? I mean… Plus, we know Trump’s track record with women, so the incident with Vashti and the idea of holding a beauty contest to find his next Queen, makes me think that the current President would feel very much at home in the King’s shoes. However, don’t get it twisted: Many feel that Achashverosh was a benign, unintelligent King who was totally played by his advisor, Haman. In our reality, Donald Trump is 100% complicit in his actions and words, and is anything but a simple, harmless person. Let’s just hope this administration has an ending as happy as the actual Purim story, because it’s not looking good right now. Bonus: Trump costumes are apparently already popular for Purim in Israel.    

Haman: The King’s advisor. Hates Jews and plots to kill them all using the King as his pawn.

2018 Version: Vladamir Putin

This was a tough one. Steve Bannon’s vocal dislike of Jews and shady whispering into the ear of Trump felt like he was sent from Biblical Central Casting. But he’s already been tossed out of the White House. So who still holds the ear of the President, ensuring he create policy in a way that does not benefit his country, but benefits those in power? I’m going with Putin. He certainly gets points for whispering into ear of the “King,” to his benefits, and honestly, the Jews have always had a tricky time in Russia…

Vashti: King’s first wife who was killed for refusing to disrobe and dance for her husband’s audience.

2018 Version: The #MeToo Movement

While not everyone reads it this way, Vashti standing up to Achashverosh showed strength, courage, and conviction (and was my first — though not last! — introduction to feminism in Biblical times). Between Vashti and the #MeToo movement, the hope is that men will FINALLY realize that women are not props to be used at their leisure or solely sexual entertainment.

Esther: Hero of our story, convinces the King not to kill the Jews.

2018 Version: The Women’s Movement

One would think Ivanka Trump was tailor made for this role. After all, she is Jewish and there’s always been that weird sexual innuendo drum her father continues to beat. But sadly, she’s not the hero the Jewish people — or anyone really — need. In reality? It’s the Women’s Movement that has been pushing for change, freedom, and equality. The various waves of feminism and the women’s rights movement are the voices that speak up for the truth and for what is right. They are the folks that stand up for our communities, as they continue to be targeted.The spirit of Esther lives on in the marches, demonstrations and activism we see today.

Mordechai: Esther’s cousin. Foils a plot to kill the King, helps Esther save the Jewish people.

2018 Version: The American People

We need to be the heroes and helpers of our own story. Mordechai was the one who helped Esther save the day. He was her support, and the one that made her path easier. We all have that ability today. We can donate money to organizations doing important work, whether it’s around women’s rights, immigration, LGBTQ issues, gun violence prevention, and more. We can use the power of voting to ensure that the best representatives end up in Congress.


[Featured image: King Ahasuerus crowning Esther as queen]

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