Turning Injustice On its Head: A Social Action Guide for Purim
Purim is the holiday of opposites. Just as the story of Esther, which begins with the evil Haman ordering all the Jews be killed and ends with Haman himself put to death, is full of the “upside down,” so too are our celebrations. We change our appearances with costumes, change our drinking habits for the day, and create Purim spiels in which we make fun of our rabbis, our tradition, and ourselves. Nothing is sacred on Purim.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, our topsy-turvy silliness, Purim remains a holiday about social justice. The commandments to eat, drink, and be merry are accompanied by the mitzvah of matanot l’evyonim, giving tzedakah (literally “gifts to the poor”). In the Book of Esther, we read, “the same days on which Jews enjoyed relief from their foes and the same month which had been transformed for them from one of grief to joy and from mourning to festival, they were to observe them as days of feasting and merry-making, and as an occasion for sending gifts [mishloach manot] and presents to the poor [matanot l’evyonim]” (Esther 9:22).
In our giving matanot l’evyonim on Purim, and in the larger sense of pursuing social justice, we recognize the need for an inversion in society, a turning upside down of the inequalities we see. By engaging in social action on Purim, we hope to erase the hierarchy of the haves and the have-nots. This guide will focus on three themes related to the holiday of Purim: poverty and hunger, women’s rights, and persecution and human rights. Just as we hope to eliminate the severe economic disparity in our society, we must also eradicate other inequalities, such as those based on gender or ethnicity. In Megillat Esther, both Vashti and Esther are in vulnerable positions because of their gender but stood up for themselves in spite of the tremendous risk. We must work towards a day on which women are no longer susceptible to abuse and discrimination. And as Jews, we are uniquely sensitive to the evil of persecution. Although Haman’s plot to kill the Jews rings farcical in our story, the instances of ethnic violence and persecution that exist in the world today are all too real. It is our obligation to demand an end to these atrocities.
Each section of this guide includes an introduction of the theme as it relates to Purim and then two subsections, one for use by individuals and families and the other for youth groups, religious schools, and congregations. Each subsection includes ideas and resources for social action activities that will deepen our celebration of the holiday.
During this time of revelry and fun, of forgetting our usual inhibitions and turning our usual routines on their heads, let us also remember that we have the power to transform the lives of those who are suffering, to turn their days of mourning into days of joy.
For general information on celebrating Purim, visit the Union for Reform Judaism’s holiday website at www.urj.org/holidays/Purim.