Monday, March 24, 2014

Barukh dayyan ha-emet

Dr. Nechama Ben-Eliahu, 1935–2014.

Activist, marine biologist, researcher, musician,

long-time board member of the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo,

Worthy Citizen of Jerusalem...

... and dear and beloved friend.

Nechama and Ozmah

Here is Nechama’s obituary from In Jerusalem, the local supplement of the Jerusalem Post:

Monday, March 17, 2014

The women's Megilla reading at the First Station

This morning, I went to the women’s Megillah reading at The First Station in southern Jerusalem. It was great. The readers were amazing, and the audience was far larger than the organizers had anticipated. They asked for more chairs, which were provided, and even so, more people kept arriving. Some sat on the floor, others stood, and everybody listened.

Shortly after I arrived, a table was brought and the Scroll of Esther prepared for reading.

The reading began...

... and the audience listened and followed along.

People followed the reading closely, as is customary. One woman used a booklet with the text:

Another used what looked like a text used in schools:

Several people brought kosher scrolls of their own.

Some used technology to follow the reading.

Parents and children followed the reading together.

Lots of people were in costume. Here’s a farmer with a penchant for photography:

This young man is wearing a frankfurter on his head.

An elephant in the room:

A sweet little tiger:

The sound was heavenly, even though the guy in charge was a bit of a devil. Maybe he just needed a cup of coffee....

After the reading, I caught a bus home. Like all the buses around the country, it wished us all a happy Purim:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

More thoughts on Purim

As Purim approaches, I think about how Esther risked her life to save the Jewish people. I also think about how, although she succeeded and survived, she lived out the rest of her life trapped in a marriage she had never sought and could not leave.

I think of the other women forced to “audition” for the position of Ahasuerus's queen. They, too, were trapped and imprisoned: even after the king rejected them, they were not free to leave the palace and go back to their former lives. They were stuck in the harem for the rest of their days.

I think of Vashti, too.

Yes, I know the awful stories about Vashti in the midrash. I didn't believe them when I first read them, and I don't believe them now. Maybe Vashti really was a vain, horrible woman who abused her high position and her servants. Maybe she was a good and decent queen. Or maybe, like the hundreds of other women in the harem, she was trying to survive the intrigues rampant there only to be manipulated into a situation where she was damned if she did and damned if she didn't. What would have happened to her if she had obeyed her husband's order and appeared before the men at his drunk-fest? Might not Ahasuerus, that champion of logic and consistency, have taken her to task once he sobered up, and perhaps even deposed her, for having compromised the royal dignity by obeying him?

The text doesn't tell us one way or the other. All we know about Vashti from the text is that she refused to obey the king's order to appear before him and his drunken buddies so he could brag to them about how hot she was — and that she was deposed for it.

The poet and writer Frances E. W. Harper (1825–1911) also thought of Vashti. Here is a link to “Vashti,” the poem she wrote about the deposed queen.

Here is a link to information about Harper herself.