Celebrating Women’s March

By Aki Yonekawa

Happy Purim!

“March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” is a phrase that used to mean nothing to me. Growing up in Los Angeles, I was accustomed to a March that really was just all lamb. Now that I live in New England, I have a much greater appreciation for March as a serious turning point in the year – a time of transition from the bitter cold and snow of winter to the crocuses and daffodils of spring.

The Hebrew calendar also has a saying about the month we are in: mishenichnas Adar, marbin besimcha – “when Adar begins, we increase our joy!” Technically, we are currently in the month of Adar II. Because we are in a Jewish leap year, we have two Adars – double the joy! You might think that Adar II is the “extra” Adar because it is tacked on after the first Adar, but as it turns out, the first Adar is “extra.” What is the difference between them? PURIM! When there are two Adars in the calendar, we celebrate Purim in the second Adar.

So, why is it the second Adar and not the first that contains Purim? One reason is that Purim should be as close to Passover as possible, and both spring holidays have themes of redemption. Even though we usually think of Passover as the ultimate spring holiday, Purim is the holiday of the auspicious beginning of spring. It is the goofy, topsy-turvy, giddy beginning, a first glimpse of freedom.

Purim commemorates the story of Esther, a woman who uses her position of power to save the Jewish people from being destroyed in the land of Persia. It is a story of reversal of fortune — from certain destruction to complete victory for a people living as a minority in a foreign land. We get goofy, bend the rules a little, wear costumes, maybe play a few good-hearted pranks.

The centering of a woman as the hero of our story of redemption deepens the March/Adar connection. March is Women’s History Month in which way we celebrate International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day has its roots in the struggles for voting rights and fair labor laws for women. What better month could there be for Purim and its heroine’s journey!

But the connections between March and Adar don’t end there because March 18 marks the 100-year anniversary of the first publicly celebrated Bat Mitzvah in America. In 1922, Judith Kaplan became a Bat Mitzvah in front of her synagogue community. Her father, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, was a visionary and a leader in incorporating the values of modernity into our ancient traditions.

It is in this moment of the bursting forth of new growth that we celebrate the women who have broken through the barriers of custom, traditions, and norms to blaze new trails toward freedom. It is because of the Esthers and the Judiths, the suffragists and the striking laborers that we live in the world that we live in today. We can honor their achievements by continuing to fight for freedom – for the freedom of people of all genders, backgrounds, and abilities to participate in our traditions with comfort and ownership.

Even as we revel and celebrate our victories, we would be remiss if we didn’t look around and see who else needs someone to stand up for them. The laws of Purim tell us to do four things: hear the story of Esther, eat a festive meal, give gifts to our friends, and help those in need. It’s a formula for making the world a better place: learn your history, celebrate your victories, gather your friends around you, and help the people that you have the power to help.

Aki Yonekawa is an adventure-loving Jewish educator in Cambridge, MA. IN addition to her work as a Hebrew Helpers mentor, she teaches Jewish Studies and leads Jewish Life programming at Gann Academy.

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