Close Trigger

Sub Domains

Mobile Utility

Header Holder ( No sticky)

Header Top

Header Bottom

Mobile Toggle (don't delete it )

Sticky Header


Gratz College
Gratz College
Gratz College
Gratz College

Academics Links

Landing Navigation


A Purim Message

Monday, March 6, 2023

Dear Friends:

The spectacular rise of Purim in the United States occurred at the very end of Rebecca Gratz's life. She was in her final years in the 1860s when young women and men in New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere organized lively popular Purim masquerade balls. And, it was much after her time when American Jews started to look to Queen Esther as a model of Jewish womanhood and leadership.

In the prime of her life, Rebecca Gratz had much to report in a letter to her brother, Ben, in Kentucky, about “family card parties”—the Gratzes were early adopters of a “new invention of chess cards”—but had little to say about upcoming “Purim revels.”

Several years later, also to Ben, Rebecca reflected on Purim. She observed that the holiday that celebrates Esther’s and Mordecai’s victory over Haman was “no longer a mirthful festival with us. It passes away sans celebration.” In contrast, more “solemn” religious occasions are “more permanently observed.”

Why the short shrift? “It is difficult to fix a time to be happy,” surmised Gratz. “And tho’ we feel grateful for the deliverance this feast commemorates as nothing is required of us but to be glad and merry; we are not always able to do so.”

In other words, Purim, as a minor festival compared to say, Passover, lacked the rites and rituals to command significant attention. There were few mechanisms to prompt Jews to Purim’s importance and the opportunity to convivially celebrate it.

In time, this changed. Purim became an occasion to recall Zionism (the tale sets in motion the Cyrus Proclamation), feminism (Esther’s prominent role), and, of course, the need to combat antisemitism (Haman, a progenitor of later hate mongers).

But there’s an important lesson, I think, about Rebecca Gratz’s confession about Purim nonobservance: it’s challenging, outside of our regular routine, to make time to take stock of our blessings, our various reasons to be happy. We ought to be very intentional—exercising a fair amount of kavanah—about finding time to celebrate the good stuff. When the rhythm of our lives suggests that “we are not always able to do so”—that’s precisely when we need to find gladness and merriment.

With best wishes for an intentional and happy Purim,

Zev Eleff's signature
Zev Eleff, Gratz President

Gratz College is home to almost 900 letters to and from the leading Jewish woman of nineteenth century American Judaism: Rebecca Gratz. Our librarians have been working with partner libraries and archives to scan and transcribe this extraordinary body of work. Earlier this year, Gratz debuted the Rebecca Gratz Digital Collection. The digitized and transcribed letters represent one of the most ambitious projects to further the study of American Jewish life. Rebecca Gratz’s letters are critical to meaningful understanding of Jewish womanhood, Jewish education, social welfare, and Jewish experience during the Civil War – to list just a few areas. The digitization process is ongoing and requires thoughtful and dedicated volunteers to transcribe the remaining letters. 

Would you like to learn how you can further the Rebecca Gratz Digital Collection? Please contact Donna Guerin at