Speech given by Jennifer Eskridge on 3/8/12 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Celebration of International Women’s Day
Today, we look at the lives of women worldwide.
We acknowledge their accomplishments.
We protest their oppression and we use this day as a call to action.
As a Jewish woman, this day resonates deeply with me. Jews live in every corner of the world, and in most places Jews are a minority. As such, our sense of belonging cannot be built on politics, ethnicity, or religion – it begins where it must – with our humanity.
Tonight, Jews throughout the world observe Purim. The coincidence of this festival with the International Women’s Day is fitting because it honors formidable women. Thousands of years ago a mythic Queen Vashti, King Ahasuerus’ first wife, refuses to strut her stuff during a party and gets dethroned for refusing to be treated as merely ornamental.
Shortly after, a young woman, named Hadassah, but called Esther, entered into a relationship with the King and though it was a dangerous alliance, it positioned her to plead for her people when they were targeted and threatened with genocide. It was a dangerous choice to reveal her identity and advocate for the Jewish community, but one that saved all the Jews living in Persia at that time.
At some point we all face difficult and sometimes dangerous choices. As a Jewish woman, my life, my history, and my tradition are filled with women who behaved heroically to the benefit of others:
- The Egyptian Midwives who risked death by defying Pharaoh and refused to drown the Jewish infants.
- Betty Friedan, founder of NOW, National Women’s Political Caucus, and author of the Feminine Mystique.
- Tina Strobos, a Dutch woman who hid and rescued more than 100 Jews during the Holocaust, passed away last week at her home in Rye, N.Y.
- Jessie Bloom, active in the women’s suffrage movement, was part of a core group of women here in Fairbanks who successfully won the right to vote 7 years before the rest of our nation, established the first kindergarten in the city of Fairbanks, and Alaska’s first Girl Scout Troop.
Women from every corner of the world,
Jewish and not,
who hold fast to an ideal:
Emma Lazarus’s famous lines at the base of Liberty captured our nation’s imagination and continue to shape the way we think about immigration, freedom, and human rights. Yet the words most often recited today do not come from her poem,”The New Colossus,” but are a dozen words that have found their way into our annual Passover celebrations. The world over, we come together year after year to remember that until we are all free, we are none of us free and that is what today is about – that is what we must continue to work towards: