How can there be a women's story that women are not allowed to tell? Today is Purim - the celebration of the rescue of the Jews from the Persian King Asueras' evil adviser Haman. In a classic (and highly fortunate) intermarriage, she became the favorite wife of the powerful king. Unaware that she's Jewish, he's chosen her from all the maidens of Shushan and fallen for her - hard. The story is intricate but it ends with a bad guy trying to get the King to kill all the Jews (sound familiar?) and the Jewish Queen Esther convincing the King that the bad guy is indeed bad, and thus saving the day.
It's an old story with both sexist and feminist implications but today it emerged with a new life - at least for me. Here's why: it's required that Jews hear the story of Esther, the Megiila Esther, read twice during the holiday. It's read with a melody - a "trope" that's quite lovely. Usually, in observant Judaism, men preside. Prayers and readings are the domain of the male voice. But women are "permitted" to read the Megilla for a gathering of women. It's a act of Jewish feminism. And that's what happened this morning.
I wish I could describe the emotion that arises as one hears the women's voices together, and the single voices, one by one, reading out the story. It's an act of faith, an act of love, really, but it's also an act of community - the community of women coming together to share the story of a feisty queen who overcame fear to save her people.
Of course you would be correct to suggest that the simplest solution would be to choose a branch of Judaism that has made its way past such rules and you'd be correct. But we've chosen, despite the difficulties, to live this life, partly because of the very community that produced this day. And it comes, as a friend reminded me last night, as a package. So there will be moments - many of them - of frustration and anger. Of a sense of deprivation and loss. And the, just when it seems terrible -- something lovely happens. Something like today.