We donned our crazy hats and masks; Nathan assigned us parts. He’d written his version of the Purim Play (Spiel); the dramatic and humorous explanation of the holiday. In brief, Purim celebrates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination. King Achasverosh announces a contest to find a new bride and summons all the eligible women to the palace. He selects Esther, who lives with her Uncle Mordecai. Esther doesn’t tell the king that she’s Jewish. Meanwhile, Haman, the king’s evil advisor, convinces the king to annihilate the Jews because they don’t follow all the laws of the kingdom. He’s particularly mad at Mordecai who refused to bow down to him in public. When Esther hears of Haman’s plan, she appeals to the king on behalf of the Jewish people, putting her own life at risk. Achasverosh listens and orders Haman hanged.
The holiday is celebrated with eating (of course), and often joyous dancing, music, and skits. Costumes are worn, for many reasons, one being to emulate how Esther hid her identity from the King. Nathan and his wife were dressed as pirates; Jacob arrived cloaked in white robes, representing Gandalf; his wife wore a sari. It’s popular to dress as people from the story or as anything else that disguises one’s identity.
And like any costume-wearing event, there’s always the potential for appearing inappropriate.
Like Dov Hikind, a New York state assemblyman who dressed up for Purim by darkening his skin with face paint, wearing an Afro wig and basketball jersey. The Democrat, who represents an area of Brooklyn that’s home to many Orthodox Jews, sponsors an annual Purim party. His costume choice drew criticism from community leaders and clergy, who felt he’d displayed a lack of empathy and overall poor judgment.
Hikind contended, “There’s not a prejudiced bone in my body,” and later apologized if his costume offended anyone.
Given the many costumes available, here’s hoping he remembers next year.