Off the Beaten Track: Independent women

Celebrate the heroines of the Purim story with a street party or a music festival in the desert.

March 1, 2012 13:55
Purim masks

Purim masks 390. (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)

Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.

Since the whole Purim story actually happened in Persia (modern day Iran), there really isn’t anywhere to tour in Israel that is connected to Purim. Some might say that the “tombs” of Esther and Mordecai are situated in the Galilee near the village of Baram, but this myth is based on the fact that when Arabs pronounce the word “Purim” it sounds like “Birim” because they don’t have a “p” sound in their alphabet.

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The Arabs of Galilee call Baram, Birim. The tomb near the ruins of Baram may very well be from the Persian or Hellenistic period but that's all the evidence that there is. The actual tombs of Esther and Mordecai are probably located in Hamadan, Iran.

So where can I take you in Israel to celebrate Purim? We’ll get to that. But first what is Purim really about?

First and foremost Purim is about women. There are two great women heroes in the story. The first one is Vashti. The first chapter of the Scroll of Esther describes King Ahasuerus (possibly Artaxerxes II) and how he ruled the world from India to Africa from his castle in Shushan Persia.

After becoming quite drunk in the presence of all the princes of Persia and Media during a great feast, Ahasuerus sent “…to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the people and the princes her beauty; for she was fair to look on. But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment by the chamberlains; therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him. (Esther 1:11-12)”

What’s going on here? It seems that the King wants Vashti, his wife, to “entertain” the princes of the empire. When she refuses, the king isn’t only mad but so are the princes who feel that their wives will do the same. It is the princes who recommended that Vashti be banished and her riches taken and given to a new queen. The princes also suggest to the king that he announce her punishment throughout the empire to warn the women of Persia to obey their husbands or else. Hence Vashti, in her bravery, tried to remain independent and honorable as queen but her blatant refusal of the king’s request in public actually hinders the rights of the women of the empire, not helps it.

In steps Esther, the beautiful young woman who catches the king’s eye. Mordecai makes sure she looks and acts as a lady is supposed to do at that time. The king is smitten with her and makes her queen without knowing that she is a Jew.

Esther and her adopted father (they were actually first cousins) Mordecai play things smart. Esther is nice to the king and is beautiful before the king. She feeds the king the information that she wants him to know and leaves out the rest, like the part of being Jewish.

Mordecai however is not guiding Esther for sinister reasons; in fact he had once saved the king’s life. His religion however did conflict with some of Persia’s laws as he would not bow down to Haman, the Kings Prime Minister.

Haman in turn wanted Mordecai and all Jews throughout the empire killed, and he gets the kings blessing to do so. Here, in the Bible itself, we have a passage that explains perfectly what anti-Semitism is as Haman declares to the king, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king's laws; therefore it profiteth not the king to suffer them. If it please the king, let it be written that they be destroyed; and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those that have the charge of the king's business, to bring it into the king's treasuries.' And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews' enemy. And the king said unto Haman: 'The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.' (Esther 3:8-11)”

Only after careful planning by Esther, and in the sole company of the King and Haman, did she spring the news that she and Mordecai, who had previously saved the king's life, were in fact Jews which leads to their redemption in the kings eyes, Haman hanged and the Jews allowed to defend themselves against Haman’s cronies. 

So even though the world wasn’t quite ready for the straightforward feminist, Vashti and her public stand against evil, Esther, takes a stand against evil as well, also putting her own neck on the line for her people, but doing it in a way that wouldn’t embarrass the king publicly and ensuring that she would indeed succeed.

An interesting side-note to this story is that the Babylonian Talmud instructs women to listen to the public reading of the scroll because "they also were involved in that miracle."

The holiday of Purim marks, according to the Scroll of Esther “the days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning into a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor (Esther 9:22).”

Today this means dressing up in costumes, giving charity, exchanging gifts, attending parties and as the tradition holds: Drink until you can’t tell the difference between blessings and curses.

And on that note here is a list of some fantastic free Purim parties happening around the country compiled by my  friends at

- The very funky and very popular Tel Aviv Street Party is taking place on Friday March 9 at noon in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and on Shaul Hamelech Boulevard. 

- At the Maoz bar on King George 32 they’ll be holding their Italian Mafia party. It starts at 10:00 p.m.; just don’t forget your mustache. There will be a live band, Monti Fiori.

- For you hippies and ravers check out the Desert Ashram Festival for 3 days (March 8-10) of trance, reggae, world music, and general free living. Tickets cost NIS 120.

- On March 9 there is the Florentin Street Party taking place in the neighborhood and down some of those little side streets. Check out the local bars, such as Hoodna, for even more happening times.

- Let’s not forget Purim in Jerusalem! There’s a party sponsored by Hebrew University students at the Carta car park on Mamilla on March 8, and a free party at Mike’s Place Yafo 33 also on March 8 scheduled to happen all night long.

Remember: Don’t drink and drive!

Joe Yudin became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Haifa in the Land of Israel Studies and is currently studying toward a PhD.

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