Queen Esther in Vancouver - אסתר המלכה בוונקובר
There are not many news stories in print or online that laud the everyday work of women. Occasionally studies are published regarding the status of women's salaries relative to men, the position of women's roles relative to men, the division of labor in the household, etc. But very little is published about the everyday life and sacrifice of women. When stories are published they are most often about how women have contributed (qua female actor in traditional male role) to the social and economic welfare of the greater community.
I do not have many "heros". Never quite got the appeal of adoring a public figure or wanting to model myself after a stranger regardless of his/her qualities. One person however, I do admire is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG) - obviously for her remarkable contribution to the Supreme Court and for her leadership and example to American women - but more for the non-public and under appreciated value she has added as a mother and a grandmother. In her capacity as a Justice on the SC she has never used her personal life to influence her judicial opinion but at the same time she has not forgotten nor obviated her personal life to the public persona.
RBG is very much like Queen Esther of Purim - a woman with a private life who serves the greater good in the public sphere. There were not, and are not, many opportunities to have a life like RBG. But ordinary women, women not in the spotlight, women whose deeds will never be lauded have been doing this for centuries - volunteering in the community, giving time, food and sustenance, and support to help their communities not only survive, but thrive.
When I grew up, I often came home from school and stopped at the JCC to see my mother who was working in the kitchen with the other women of Hadassah, הדסה. The women of Hadassah, an organization named for Queen Esther's Hebrew name, was very active in Saskatoon. There wasn't a week that went by that they weren't involved in some sort of social action or charity event. And on the days they were not busy with Hadassah they were involved in the Sisterhood, performing vital ritual tasks for the Mikveh, מקווה נשים, the Burial Society, חברה קדישה, distributing , משלוח מנות on Purim.
This culture of volunteerism that was widespread and common in my youth seems to have disappeared. Many smaller Jewish communities do not have the congregation or the means to support these activities and many services have been taken over by professional or in some cases NGOs. Frankly many women do not want to volunteer for no pay.
When my father ז׳׳ל died my mother left Saskatoon and moved to Vancouver. She immediately volunteered for the Seniors Group, Hadassah, the Sisterhood at the Temple. She became an active member of her new community by giving first and receiving warmth and welcome in return.
For the past 27 years my mother has volunteered at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital. She started out as a salesperson, one day per week in the Gift Shop. Over the years she took on more and more responsibility. Today she manages the staff and the staff schedule. She does the buying for the shop, she does the books for the shop, she does special requests for those who have no family or aid. She works 4 days a week, every week.
The profits from the shop which have skyrocketed under her management, have been used to buy special diagnostic medical equipment, hospital beds, a barbeque for the residents and much, much, more. She greets all the customers in a quiet and gentle way and I know she is loved for her patience and her concern.
On the website of the Home there is a very brief paragraph about the shop. No mention is made of the women who work there, not that they expect it, but it would be nice. I know that the shop is an integral part of the life of the residents and the staff at the Home. I know that there are not many women left like my mother, Goldie Kassen.
So, this past week when my Mom called and told me she was going to the Purim Party as Queen Esther, I was especially proud. She was worrying over what dress to wear. In the end she chose the evening gown my father ז׳׳ל bought her in Jerusalem in 1962. It was a beautiful dress then and it is a beautiful dress today. But more importantly, the women wearing the dress is beautiful - as beautiful as Queen Esther and as important as all those women who have kept the traditions alive and without whom we would be impoverished.