Sisterhood Blog

My Fast of Esther

By Jennifer Bernstein

  • Print
  • Share Share

Getty Images

When my nana, Claire Laufer Daniels, was 17-years old, the Nazis marched into her hometown of Vienna and were welcomed with open arms. Seemingly overnight, her friends turned on her, she was forbidden from attending school and she was even forced to scrub the city’s sidewalks with guns pointed at her head. Thankfully, she was able to escape, but her parents stayed behind and were eventually murdered at Auschwitz. She came to the United States all alone as a scared 17-year-old. She spoke no English. She knew nobody. She had no idea what would happen to her parents. Thankfully, the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) was there to help. They took her in and taught her hairstyling, a skill she would later use to open her own salon. They taught her to speak English. They helped her become an American citizen. My nana passed away last summer at the age of 92. To honor her memory, and to honor the plight of today’s immigrants, yesterday I participated in NCJW’s Fast of Esther.

It was my first time participating in the Fast of Esther. Although I am well connected to the Jewish community — I am the Missouri State Policy Advocacy Vice Chair for NCJW and I am the Director of Advocacy and Communications at Central Reform Congregation, a St. Louis synagogue — I had never really given the Fast of Esther a second thought. Like many Jews of my generation, Purim meant carnival goldfish as a kid, partying in Israel when studying abroad in college, and taking our own kids to Megillah readings and carnivals now. This year, however, I acknowledged Purim by fasting to advocate for the immigrant women and families who suffer because of our broken immigration system that divides families and keeps many of our undocumented neighbors fearfully living in the shadows. This fast was part of the month-long, nationwide Women’s Fast for Families to stress the urgency of passing just and comprehensive immigration reform that is fair to women, children, and families.

Stories such as my nana’s are why members of the Jewish community have always been so passionate about immigration issues. As Mick Jones of the Clash and Big Audio Dynamite wrote in the song “Beyond the Pale,” (probably the most compelling pro-immigration song I am aware of), a song about his Jewish grandparents’ journey to a better life in the UK, “but for accidents of disorder, that guy could well be me.” Today’s undocumented immigrants could be all of us. I know not to presume that my fasting will make a giant impact on immigrant rights, but perhaps it will spur me to take a bigger stand for people whose voices are not yet heard.

I also fasted in solidarity with the 550 Northwest Detention Center detainees who have been on a hunger strike since March 8 in Washington State to protest deportations. Yes, I am fully aware that a day of fasting is not anywhere close to what they are doing, and that hunger is a serious problem in our society, but I think it is important that my family, friends and coworkers understand what is going on in this country in regards to immigration. So here it goes:

Since I am not much of a breakfast person, it was pretty easy at first. I did get a twinge of jealousy when making breakfast for our son, but I anticipated that the biggest issue I would have is the headache I was bound to get due to a lack of caffeine. I also anticipated this will be easier than the Yom Kippur fast, since I would be super busy at work.

I was surprised that I actually enjoyed fasting. It’s ironic, because I usually dread Yom Kippur, but yesterday felt different. Maybe it’s because there was a social justice issue behind the decision, and not merely because I was supposed to.

This fast also made me think about the detainees in Washington State. Hunger strikes are such profound methods of non-violent resistance. They can also be used to invoke guilt in others. I planned to employ the “guilt” method to get people in my social media circle to think about the immigration issue. When someone posted a picture of their lunch on Facebook (as people, for some reason, are wont to do), I commented on the fact that I was fasting and explained why. If someone mentioned that they just had a cup of coffee, I told them why I had a headache. I know, these are drops in the ocean, but perhaps it encouraged people to pay attention to this cause.

As the day moved on, I was so busy with work that I didn’t even noticed the fact that I had had nothing to eat or drink. What popped up in my head was how fearful the Persian Jewish community must have been at the time of Haman, and how fearful the 11 million undocumented workers that are forced to live in the shadows must feel now. They don’t enjoy the same workplace protection we do. They don’t enjoy the same legal protections that we do. Our current immigration system is broken. It is tearing families apart. As a community that has suffered so profoundly for millennia, it is incumbent upon us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. I hope that yesterday’s fast will raise our voices together and finally get congress to do something.

I think my nana would have been proud of me. She was a lifelong progressive herself and always encouraged us to fight for what was right. I will continue to honor her memory by doing just that.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: fasting, Jewish, Fast of Esther, immigration

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.