I have a picture of myself at seven in a white frilly party dress, white tights, patent leather shoes, with a crown on my head. I am sitting cross-legged on a make shift throne at my childhood synagogue's Purim carnival. It must have been then that I decided I wanted to be Queen Esther when I grew up. I took the matter seriously, perfecting the costume over the years. I even bought a red wig when I learned my previously envisioned blond queen was really a redhead.

When I got to college, I read the Megillah for the first time and found that Esther was more than a beauty queen. I realized that Esther was one of the strongest Jewish women in history. As I read the commentaries, I learned that Esther secretly kept kosher in the king's palace by only eating fruits and nuts, all the while managing to keep her Jewish identity hidden. I took her example seriously. I decided that I, too, could be like Esther. I took on a custom to become a vegetarian for the month before Purim in honor of connecting with the energy of Esther. I maintained this personal custom from that year forward. When Purim day actually came and I sat down to the Purim feast, I thought about the food I was eating. I thought about how lucky I was and how much more than meat Esther had to give up. I realized connecting with Esther was going to take a lot more then a four week commitment to dried fruits and nuts. I had to search deeper.

I thought about how much Esther had to give upWhen I researched Esther, I found that she was an orphan raised by her cousin Mordechai. I learned that her life had already had many trials in it before the Purim story ever started. As I researched more, I learned that Esther never wanted to be a queen. Esther wanted to live her life quietly, in peace, as a Jew. She had no desire for riches or fame. She didn't have her eye on greatness or on changing the world. Esther was a nice Jewish girl living an otherwise uneventful life. And then things changed.

When Esther was selected as the new queen of Persia her status changed without her having much to say about it. Esther was suddenly in a new role. She was no longer a simple Jewish girl. Esther was now a queen. Becoming a queen overnight could have gone to her head. Esther could have congratulated herself on how much she deserved the honor. After all, the king had selected her based on her beauty, thus confirming she was actually the most beautiful woman in the land. But Esther took another approach to her new life. Esther waited to see how she could be of most service in her role as the queen.

Now life doesn't always go the way we plan. Esther found herself facing more then what you could call a hard decision. When she learned of Haman's evil decree to kill the Jews, she could have stayed quiet. The king didn't know she was Jewish. She could have stood by and watched as destiny played itself out, and the Jews were killed. No one knew who she was; she could have survived.

But Esther did the unthinkable. Esther went to the king, without being summoned. The penalty for this, she knew, was death. She invited him to join her for a feast. Though she knew that she might be killed in the process, she pleaded the case of her fellow Jews.

The penalty for this, she knew, was death As a child I was taught that Esther knew how the king felt about her and that she knew he would give her anything. When I read the Megillah for myself I learned that Esther was afraid. Esther knew she might be killed for what Mordechai was asking her to do, but she did it anyway. In the Megillah we learn that Esther looks at Mordechai and says, "Avaditi, Avaditi. (If I perish, I perish.)" She doesn't say it in a way that implies she doesn't care if she dies. She says it with a heavy heart. She says it knowing that regardless of what happens to her she is doing the right thing.

Years have passed since I was in Sunday school. When I think about Queen Esther today I still find myself enchanted with who she was and what she stood for. I find that often the people we look to for role models are always strong and clear in their vision. They always know what to do and do it. They make it look too easy and when I look at them I think, that may be fine for them but I'm not anywhere close to that level.

What I connect to when thinking about Queen Esther is something completely different. Queen Esther is a role model that I can relate to. What I love about Esther is that she was afraid and human and still found the strength to step into the role she was destined for. Esther was real, before she was a queen and after. Esther found the strength, no, she searched for and found the strength, to actualize her potential.

Connecting with the Queen Esther within isn't about being a super woman or always having the strength to jump into any situation without a thought or moment of anxiety. Getting in touch with this part of ourselves is about looking at Esther as a real person. Esther was a girl who rose from humble beginnings to greatness because she overcame her fear and self- doubt to find the strength to push past her comfort zone.

That's what I am working on: knowing how to be strong even when the task in front of me is frightening. I am looking to Queen Esther as a role model. I am learning from her how to grow into a woman who is in touch with her reality but still finds the inner strength to be more than she thinks she can be. I am looking to Queen Esther to learn how to be strong in moments that I feel weak and to know that every moment I find myself in is exactly where I need to be.