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Esther, Vashti, and us
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Esther, Vashti, and us

Purim, which begins on Saturday night, is many things, but it is conspicuously a holiday that celebrates the examples of brave and assertive women. Jewish feminists have reclaimed the traditional villainess of the Purim story, Vashti, as a role model for girls who bristle under the often subservient roles picked out for them by male-dominated traditions and institutions. And Queen Esther, of course, is the paragon of a woman who stands up to authority, risks her status, and marshals her strength to save her nation.

Women’s groups have long taken their cues from these role models. This month, in celebration of International Women’s Day, Jewish Women International is drawing attention to the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA), which would direct the U.S. government to implement a strategy to reduce violence against women in at least five countries where such violence is severe. The bill would also permanently authorize the Office of Global Women’s Issues. The legislation, introduced in the House last June, now has six Republican cosponsors and will shortly be reintroduced in the Senate. According to Lori Weinstein, JWI’s CEO, I-VAWA “will make existing efforts to stop violence against women more integrated, effective, and efficient, placing women at the center of U.S. foreign policy.”

Another Jewish group, National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section, this week organized a mass rally* in West Orange to draw attention to the violence and injustice perpetrated against women around the world. The “Billion Rising for Justice” rally was a statement of solidarity with those women and with local victims of domestic abuse, human trafficking, and an often daunting legal system. An array of Jewish organizations cosponsored the event.

NCJW quotes statistics that one in three women around the world — one billion people — will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. But although such numbers can instill a sense of hopelessness, the Purim story reminds us that brave individuals can overturn injustice and invert the destiny mapped out for the powerless.

* The rally was also sponsored by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Rachel Coalition, Saint Barnabas Medical Center, NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking, The Healthcare Foundation of NJ, JCC MetroWest, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest NJ, Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled, Jewish Women’s Foundation of NJ, Jewish Women International, Daughters of Israel, NCJW-West Morris Section, Hadassah, Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Family Connections, Partners for Women and Justice, Essex County Family Justice Center, Temple B’nai Abraham and its Sisterhood, and the Dance Theater of Harlem.

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