As these words are being written, the entire world is looking anxiously toward the future, and the effects of the coronavirus. We can’t avoid it — people in supermarkets are stocking up, and news from all over the world arrives on our screens with alarming updates, political debates on public safety, and attempts to prevent hysteria.
As these words are being written, the Tucson Jewish community is celebrating Purim. With or without coronavirus, the holiday of Purim tells a big story of community resilience, mutual responsibility, and the ability of individuals to speak up and push for a greater cause. Purim is also about the power of women and their political potential.
We usually focus on the stories of Esther and Mordechai, but for me, the real story is of Vashti, which can be read as a story of resistance. The Megillah starts with her decision not to obey, not to serve as an ornament or decoration for the pleasure of the king and his friends. Reading the Megillah, we learn about the power of her refusal from the king’s reaction — Achashverosh was extremely concerned about the example her refusal might set. He decreed that he would marry another woman, and so our story begins.
The International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8 brings to light all those actions of powerful women, daring to speak up and defy social and other norms. In Israel, there are many women who are actively participating in creating new types of discourse and challenging existing structures. Here is a short list of three very different examples:
Born in 1981, Aharish is an Israeli-Arab news presenter and journalist. She was one of the 12 people to light the torch in the traditional annual ceremony on Yom Haatzmaut, the 67th Independence Day of the State of Israel. The ceremony committee wrote: “Aharish was chosen because she represents and promotes social pluralism and calls for co-existence in our country.” Aharish proudly carries her Arab roots in one hand, and her love and affiliation with the State of Israel, in the other. She is the embodiment of coexistence; working to bring together all citizens of Israel, both Jewish and Arab. Because of her strong opinions, activism, colorful personality, and charisma, Aharish has managed to position herself as a young Israeli who is willing to fight bravely for her values, and her desire to make Israeli society tolerant, enlightened, and more
Born in 1980, Keisar is a Mizrachi poet who has developed a unique genre of protest poetry. Mizrachi Jews are descended from mostly Muslim Middle Eastern or North African countries. Keisar deals with issues of oppression and liberation of women and the Mizrachi community, both as underrepresented communities. She was one of the founders of the “Ars Poetica” genre, which is one of the most interesting social and cultural phenomena in Israel in the recent years. The movement’s evenings include a “hafla” (big party), young Mizrachi poets reading their poems, and belly dancers. Being a young Mizrachi woman, Keisar writes about the discrimination against ethnic groups in Israel, and centers of power in Israeli society. She bravely examines sensitive issues in Israel’s culture with confidence, and sounds a voice that is loud and clear.
Dr. Kira Radinski
Born in 1986, Radinski is an expert in the field of computer science at the Technion. According to The Journal of Technology at MIT University, Radinski is one of 35 promising young innovators around the world. Radinski has developed a methodology using a computerized system to predict future events based on the analysis of old texts. She uses hundreds of years of text from sources such as The New York Times and online encyclopedias. The system detects patterns of events and patterns of cause, in which it can predict recurrent events such as natural disasters, epidemics, and waves of violence. According to Radinski, she has devoted herself to scientific research since age 15 at the Technion, with one dream in mind — to make the world a better place.
All three women are internationally recognized for their achievements and activism. They are shedding light on different practices, putting forward their agendas in a brave way. All of them had to do something that is out of the ordinary. Reflecting on Purim, I wish us all, women and men, to be blessed with courage and motivation to change what we see fit, participate in the discussion, and be there for each other.
Inbal Shtivi is the community shlicha (Israeli emissary) for Southern Arizona and director of the Weintraub Israel Center, a joint project of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the Tucson Jewish Community Center.