Purim is a time where everything is topsy-turvy. It is the celebration and remembrance of the miraculous saving of the Jews in Persia from a decree of death. Purim is celebrated by reading Megillah to retell the Purim story of beauty pageants and heroic bravery. However, a closer look at the story shows that we often skim over a more sinister motif.
Megillat Esther opens with King Abashverosh demanding Vashti’s presence at his lavish party. She refuses and is consequently dethroned, and a search for a new queen begins. A closer look at the texts shows that the search for the new queen is far from the innocuous beauty pageant that was told to us in Hebrew school. Women are captured from their homes, rounded up into a harem, and given one by one to be raped by the king. After that one night, they are imprisoned as concubines, their freedom and dignity stolen from them. This part of the Purim story mirrors the cruel reality of human trafficking today. The trafficking of women and children is an egregious global phenomenon, in which women and children are captured from their homes, imprisoned, and raped daily for the profit of their owners.
Since this is Purim, I will bring up a topsy-turvy element of sex slavery. It not only exists, but also is prevalent in Israel, the Jewish homeland. Women and children, lured with false promises of employment, are trafficked, primarily from the former USSR into sex slavery in Israel. The NGO that I am volunteering with, ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking estimates that there are 3,000 sex slaves in Israel today. There they are imprisoned and raped ten to fifteen times daily. In the Purim story we are never told what happens to Vashti after she disobeys her order. Vashti simply disappears, her name never mentioned again, and the women are enslaved as concubines, also never to be heard from again. Similarly, the stories of these sex slaves are rarely told, nor their voices heard. Yet through education, awareness, and advocacy (about which information is available on ATZUM’s website http://tfht.org) we can work towards ending sex slavery in Israel.
It was Haman who paid King Abashverosh ten thousand talents of silver to decree to destroy, kill, and annihilate all Jews, both women and children. Today, there is once again an ongoing plot, a profitable venture to violate and destroy the lives of innocent women and children. In the Purim story, Queen Esther summons remarkable courageous and faith to approach the King to save her people. This Purim, may we have Esther’s courage and conviction to save these women and children from destruction.