In the first chapter of Megillat Esther, Queen Vashti gives a banquet for women in the royal palace. It soon becomes clear that King Ahasuerus has other ideas and dispatches his eunuchs to bring Vashti to his party. When Vashti refuses she is banished, thus making room for Esther to enter the king’s harem and make her mark on the history of the Jewish people.
Vashti may be the first recorded woman to “just say no!” From today’s vantage point, we can only guess that she was so empowered because of the presence and support of the other women at her banquet.
Over the past several decades, with boundless originality and resourcefulness, Jewish women have been seeking new and imaginative ways to create rituals that are personally meaningful.
Not all of these observances need be serious and heavy handed. With this in mind, and especially since the dictates of Purim enjoin us to celebrate with fun and frivolity, Women’s League has created its own celebratory ritual. Vashti’s Banquet will recreate the queen’s fabled harem banquet with a clearly modern twist.
We all harbor fantasies about the harem thanks to The Arabian Nights and the films of Cecile B. DeMille, but there is no written account from the ancient world about life in that segregated world. In this new holiday ritual, Women’s League is using its imagination to recapture the atmosphere of joyfulness and triumph that must have surrounded Vashti and her companions. The women-only guests will be able to taste the sisterhood of ancient Persia with activities known from anthropology and literature enjoyed by women: food, music, belly dancing, story telling, and beauty secrets.
This program will appeal to women of all ages. Rather than a vestige of women’s subjugation by men, the harem can be seen as the quintessential women’s space – where they lived together, mourned together and danced together. As women recover voices from the past, they create new forms of celebrating, thereby bonding with each other in the very real present.
This should be an event that extends the boundaries of your imaginations. Encourage women to come dressed in caftans, jeweled shirts, harem pants and lots of jewelry.
Stage I: Planning
Stage II: The Event
Music: If you are going to use recorded music only, there are several excellent Middle Eastern women’s groups that have made recordings.
Books: A new publication from JPS called Megillat Esther by J.T. Waldman is fun and can be used for a variety of teaching and storytelling activities. The image of Vashti that we are using for our program is from this book. You can request the image as a jpeg from the WLCJ office. Order the book from www.jewishpub.org or from Amazon.com.
Study Material: The “Other” Megillah
Materials used by the sisterhood of Congregation Rodeph Sholom, in Tampa, Florida, for their Vashti’s Banquet: