Jews with Views – Purim Edition 5783
What is your best Purim costume of all time?
BY RABBI JUDAH MISCHEL
Over the years, my family has enjoyed many great coordinated Purim costumes, from Moroccan jalabiyas and unicorns to a shtetl theme. While adding to the raucous fun of Purim, wearing costumes reflects the day’s theme of hiddenness and revelation. Hiding our identity lets us imagine depths that lie beneath our perceived reality, what is beyond appearances.
Into a shul walk an ex-president and Mordechai haYehudi. Who are they really? Are they the people we know via their everyday persona? Are we our social roles? Or are we playing fictional characters? Perhaps our self-images within professional settings, and even with friends, are like ‘costumes’. But who are we?
‘Persona’ derives from the Greek prosopon, ‘mask’. Ancient Greek actors wore a prosopon on stage – but not to conceal themselves, rather to reveal their character and their inner emotions to the audience. Our Purim mask, too, reveals something that we hide. Megillat Esther means ‘Revelation of the Hidden’.
As we ‘dress up’ for different roles in life, our actions and choices also fluctuate. Our behaviors are levushim which can conceal our true desire to live with Yiddishkeit and make holy choices. In the beginning of the megillah, we participated in the non-kosher feast of Achashverosh. But nahafoch-hu, ‘it was reversed’, and by the end, we re-accepted and upheld the Torah. On Purim we realize that beneath our ‘costume’ is who we really are: a Jew connected to Hashem.
The most meaningful costume is dressing up as myself, revealing me, a Jew who desires closeness with Hashem. This Purim, may we not hold back – from being our truest self. LaYehudim hayta orah… kein tihyeh lanu!
Rabbi Judah Mischel is Executive Director of Camp HASC and author of Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuvah.
BY YAELI DAVIS
On Purim you can dress up as anything you desire, but it’s precisely this freedom that makes the decision so difficult. It’s hard to pick my favorite Purim costume. I’ve been a princess, Rebbe Nachman (my dad collected Breslov kippot) and a clown. But last year’s costume takes the cake. It was my first Purim since getting married, and so I forced my husband into doing a couples costume. But that was only the beginning of the struggle; when we flew to South Africa for the holiday, we still hadn’t agreed on a costume.
At the last moment, we ran frantically to ‘Mr. Price’ in South Africa and found our costume: Dr. Doofenshmirtz and Perry the Platypus from the children’s TV show Phineas and Ferb. I spent my first Purim in South Africa walking around with a cardboard platypus tail stapled to my bright green dress, a brown fedora and bright yellow shoes, while my husband Yoni made himself a long paper nose and borrowed his sister’s lab coat.
Yoni does a good impression of his character (“Perry the Platypus, how unexpected of you…” – if you know, you know), so people knew instantly who we were. We made an unusual sight in Johannesburg – an incompetent evil scientist and a British lady in a bright turquoise dress with a stapled-on tail.
When dressing up for Purim, we usually think about what looks best on us and what others will think of us. But Purim represents the exact opposite. It’s about moving beyond our selfish selves and bringing joy to one another – even if it means walking around with a platypus tail!
Yaeli Davis, originally from London, met Yoni, her South African husband, at a kibbutz ulpan while working with cows. She is a Mizrachi campus organizer at the Technion.
BY ELI LEBOWICZ
Writing this piece about Purim costumes feels like a microcosm of the entire Purim costume experience itself. I want the finished product to be original and clever so when people see it on social media they like it. (But unlike mishloach manot where regifting is an option, like that box of raisins you got 10 seconds ago that you’re totally redistributing to someone who you didn’t think you were good enough friends with to be on your primary list.) Inevitably though, I wrote this a bit last minute, so forgive me if this is the costume equivalent of going through the closet before megillah reading, finding an old Michael Jordan jersey and going as “a basketball player.”
I did see an all-year-round Purim store in Brooklyn recently, making me wonder if there’s someone who recently decided to do wedding shtick as a full-time job, whose parents are certainly disappointed.
I’ve had some pretty costumes over the years, including dressing as The Penguin from Batman and going as an actual penguin while collecting money for tzedakah while holding a sign that said “Need money so Morgan Freeman can narrate my life.” But the best costume I’ve had was the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz. It didn’t matter that the silver cloth I wore didn’t make it through the day intact. It meant a lot since I had had heart surgery a couple months prior, making many of you reading this wonder if I look great for someone in their eighties or terrible for someone in their mid-thirties. My wife going as Dorothy and my 6-month-old as an adorable lion helped me get rid of some of the rust I felt physically and comedically.
Eli Lebowicz is a standup comedian who has performed at Jewish events all over the world, including at some shuls that were nervous about having comedy since they had someone in 1985 who wasn’t clean. You can book him to perform at EliComedy.com.
BY TALI BORENSTEIN
Growing up, I watched my mother master Purim every year. I remember her creativity and ingenuity coming to life. One year in particular, my mother dressed up as Professor McGonagall, I was Hermione, and other family members were Hagrid, Harry Potter, and Ron Weasley. With the robes and details, it was, simply put, epic. Then came the mishloach manot: long pretzels as wands, Jelly Bellies with their unique flavors, chocolate frogs from our local chocolate store, and more! To top it off, she then composed a memorable poem connecting and bringing it all together.
After many hours of running around and delivering mishloach manot, our family would gather around our dining room table with the mishloach manot that we had received, and one by one we would each select one to open, read the note or poem that came with it, and judge their creativity (and who, of course, gave the best snacks!).
As a parent myself now, I attempt to channel the desire and dedication my mother showed us as children. I strive to create memories that are everlasting around our Jewish holidays for my family. I hope that by creating an experience for them, years from now when they are raising their children, they will look at Purim as an opportunity to build memories and joy as a family.
Talia Borenstein, MSW is the Director of Member Engagement at Boca Raton Synagogue.
BY RABBI NOAM FRIEDMAN
A number of years ago, while reading something or other about the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, a very bad pun popped into my head. Derrida, born to Sephardic Jewish parents in Algeria, is perhaps most famous for having promulgated “deconstruction”, an approach I should probably allow more philosophically adept minds to attempt to define. Despite not having really understood the little Derrida I had read in my life, I became fixated on this very bad pun and resolved to bring it to life.
When Purim of that year approached, I printed a t-shirt with a blown-up photo of Derrida’s brooding visage, brow furrowed and wavy white hair slanted upward at impossible angles. I paired it with a yellow reflective vest and tools befitting a construction zone. I was a deconstruction worker.
The pun was made all the more timely by the fact that during those days I found myself working on an actual construction site. Purim that year fell out in the middle of Columbia University’s spring break; I then served as OU-JLIC rabbi at Columbia and Barnard, and was building houses through Habitat for Humanity alongside 20 amazing students in Charleston, South Carolina, where we celebrated Purim with the wonderful local Jewish community.
All in all, I think there were two people who appreciated the pun. I recently met a third. If this column elicits one or two more, I just may dust ol’ Jacques off to take him for another spin this Purim. In any case, I made myself laugh, which is good enough for me.
Rabbi Noam Friedman is the co-director of Mizrachi OU-JLIC at Reichman University in Herzliya. He previously served as the director of OU-JLIC at Columbia University before making Aliyah with his family this past summer.