Purim was the one day I wasn’t in disguise | AJN


Purim was the one day I wasn’t in disguise

From Purim to the Pride March.

March 17, 2022, 11:16 am

ON Purim – a day when it is customary to hide your true identity – I found mine. As the fifth child in a family of eight, I struggled with my own identity both within my family and our closed ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel community.

Conforming to the strict dress codes expected by my family and surrounding community did not agree with my core perception of self.

Back then, I was considered what you’d call a “tomboy”. I loved to be active. I loved running. I loved climbing trees. I felt absolute discomfort in skirts, stockings (no matter the weather) and “girlie things”.

Riding a bike for girls was not allowed due to modesty codes, but I still managed to get some time on my brother’s bicycle every now and then and I loved it.

George was my favourite character in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five novels. With her short black cropped hair, her competency and her sense of adventure. I loved how everyone accepted her. She was “one of the boys”. I wanted to be George.

As a child, I didn’t have the language nor did I understand that my resistance to wearing skirts wasn’t only about the sense of feeling stifled from a religious perspective. It was also taking away my capacity to understand and explore my identity. My visceral rejection to the clothing wasn’t only because I didn’t understand the religious expectations. It wasn’t that I was a rebel. It just didn’t feel like I was a girl like the other girls around me.

After age three, I could no longer wear pants. That’s the age girls begin adhering to dress codes. Compulsory long sleeves and high-necked tops. I felt discomfort and suffocated. My ability to understand my identity was stifled.

Looking back at my childhood, Purim was the only day I could dress to match the way I felt. To be able to wear a pair of my brother’s pants for the day and dress up as a “boy” dresses, was always the highlight of the year for me.

It felt like a sin yet gave me a sense of liberation. Just for the day.

I now understand that my younger self’s sense of freedom in wearing boys’ clothing had a lot to do with my identity as non-binary.

I believe it was actually a positive saving grace that sexuality and the concept of gender non-conformity was non-existent. There was no language around for such expressions or conversations. That kind of subject matter was never discussed.

Nobody in my family or community could accuse me of being “evil” – at least that part hadn’t been tainted for me.

All of us wear masks at times, to hide ourselves away. Masks protect us. We are forced to wear masks to fit in with society.

But my experience was feeling forced to be dishonest. It’s a strange contradiction, not revealing who I was, was the mask I needed to wear – for self-preservation and protection.

Clothing is not just clothing. It tells a story. Clothing can be used as a “mask”. Clothing can be used to enhance. Clothing can be used as a statement of self-expression. Wearing a skirt feels so incongruous with who I am. Then again, there are days when I feel more feminine. And on those days, I feel a lot more comfortable wearing a skirt, wearing a pretty top and sometimes even putting make up on.

But on those days, when it is my choice to wear more typically feminine clothing, I am wearing them because I am being true to the essence of myself. Not because it’s being forced upon me by religious values.

Every Purim, I personally celebrate the recognition of finding my identity. It falls on my birthday and as such is my true “anniversary”. Purim is also a day when I celebrate my younger self’s sense of exhilaration, striding out of my childhood family home, dressed as a boy.

In a similar way, I felt absolutely elated when I marched under the banner of Pathways Melbourne with the Jews of Pride parade for the first time, wearing the clothes I wanted to wear.

Being surrounded by a diverse group of Jewish and non-Jewish people, each with their own senses of identity – all of us accepting of one another as a colourful member of our broad community. Each with our own story and history of how we “arrived” together.

Dassi Herszberg is a member of the Pathways Melbourne advisory panel and a qualified art therapist and counsellor. For further information, visit pathwaysmelbourne.org

The Purim Superhero | Kirkus Review

The Purim Superhero [PDF]
Author: Kushner, Elisabeth
Illustrator: Byrne, Mike

Reviewed on January 15, 2013

The Purim SuperheroPeople forget that Superman is an alien. This book is a reminder that that’s the source of his strength.

Here’s a secret that isn’t taught in school: Everyone has a superpower. It might be drawing monsters or kindness to strangers or the ability to read an unusual number of books. Nate’s power is that he feels like an alien. He’s the only boy in his class with two fathers, Daddy and Abba. All the boys in Nate’s Hebrew school class are dressing up as superheroes for Purim, but Nate really wants a green costume with antennae. (Comic-book fans would, of course, suggest that he dress as the Martian Manhunter.) “Sometimes showing who you really are makes you stronger,” Abba says, “even if you’re different from other people.” Nate’s secret power gives him unusual creativity, and his solution wins him an award for most original costume. Byrne’s illustrations make the ending especially satisfying, with half-a-dozen young superheroes standing around in tennis shoes. (Longtime superhero fans, however, will feel old when they see Wolverine in a picture book.) A generation from now, this book may feel hopelessly outdated: A moral about tolerance and being yourself may seem painfully obvious. Many will view this as a sign of progress. If that happens, it will be because of the work of heroes like Nate.

For now, this book is both timely and entirely satisfying. (Picture book. 4-9)

AJN Letters: Gays & Celibacy + Purim & Mardi Gras – March 9 2012

9 Mar 2012
The Australian Jewish News Sydney edition

Letters to the editor should be no more than 250 words and may be edited for length and content. Only letters sent to letters@jewishnews.net.au will be considered for publication. Please supply an address and daytime phone number for verification.

Adapting the Torah to reflect values

SOME of our rabbis seem to expect celibacy from those who are gay. Is this the compassion we would like from spiritual leaders?

We now know that homosexuality has been found among animal species, so we cannot confidently state that it is a personal choice.

Gays are all part of creation. Can those of us who are not gay comfortably sit back and tell gays, it is forbidden for you to follow your instincts but we, who consider ourselves normal, can enjoy them? After all, is the Torah not full of death sentences for what we nowadays regard as not so serious?

Is it possible to mistake the meaning of the Torah? Perhaps it was constructed for its time, it being assumed that later generations would have the knowledge and skills to read it in a new light.

Or it might it be an inspired manmade work reflecting the values of its time, to be reassessed with every century. Should we be using the Torah to make life barely tolerable for a sub-stantial minority? I know I cannot.

Bentleigh East, Vic

Misrepresenting the meaning of Purim

PROFESSOR David Shneer (“Pride and prejudice ….and Purim” AJN 02/03) woefully distorts the Purim message.

Applying phrases to Judaism like “the holiness of transgression” (sic.) and “revelling in worldly pleasures” do nothing, in my opinion, to enhance his credibility as a serious writer on Jewish themes. Nor for that matter does his risible invocation of the name of the Rambam in spurious support of his views.

To quote the Rambam: “The Torah states (Lev. 18:2) ‘after the actions of Egypt … you shall in no way do’ Our sages commented ‘ what perversions did they do in Egypt? A man would marry a man and a woman a woman.…’”(rambam, Hilchot Isurei Bi’ah 21:8).

The reason for disguising ourselves on Purim is to hide our true identity. Just as Queen Esther was deemed by all to be part of the problem and ended up being part of the solution, so do we masquerade as the opposite of what we truly are. Nothing to do with any “redemptive potential of masquerade” or “see(ing) the infinite possibility … in each experience”. Disguises incidentally also help us carry out optimally the mitzvot of the day, namely gifts to the poor (which the Rambam says is best done anonymously) and giving token food gifts to one’s friends (which one might be embarassed to do ordinarily).

In the English language the word “pride” has two antonyms: “shame” and“modesty”.in Judaism,pride as the opposite of shame is a worthy virtue. However, as the reverse of modesty, pride is viewed negatively. Traditionally, Purim disguises will never leave large areas of body flesh exposed as in a certain other annual carnival.

There is indeed no point of connection between Purim and Mardi Gras.

One can only hope that Professor Shneer’s piece was intended as an early purimshpiel.

Bondi Junction, NSW

Pride and prejudice … and Purim | AJN

2 Mar 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

Pride and prejudice … and Purim

Given our historic struggle against discrimination, as Jews we can relate to the struggle of those who suffer prejudice as a result of their sexual orientation, according to Professor David Shneer. And Purim, he says, provides the perfect opportunity to show our solidarity.

IN the northern hemisphere, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people annually commemorate and celebrate the June 1969 Stonewall Riots, in which patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York City said “no” to another police raid of a gay bar, and started a three-day pitched street battle, which some call the first open display of gay political street activism.

In 1969, patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York rioted after an unprovoked police raid.

Since 1969, those gays, then gays and lesbians, and now LGBTI people along with their friends, family, and allies commemorate this historic event with parades, festivals, and marches.

It was convenient that those angry people, fed up with police brutality, rebelled against it in the US summer of 1969. Who wants to march in an annual commemoration parade in the middle of winter (although Americans and their Puritanical selves seem to have a fondness for frigid Christmas parades in winter).

In Australia, it proved too much to continue marching to commemorate Stonewall in the winter, so in the early 1980s, the commemoration was moved to February and March and called Mardi Gras, coinciding with the Christian carnival of celebration before the long, hard period of selfabnegation called Lent. Over the last 30 years, Mardi Gras has become, like its cousins up north, perhaps less political and certainly more commercial. (After all, when the Australian Tourism Board supports it, you know it has become commercial.)

In the United States, June has become pride month, even at the federal level, as the Obamas host a Gay Pride Party. As good Americans, Jewish communities began figuring out how to incorporate June’s gay pride month as something significant for Jews as Jews, not simply as gays who happen to be Jewish.

Since the early days of the Stonewall Riots, gay and lesbian synagogues held “Pride Shabbat” events to coincide with local parades in the metropolitan areas that had gay synagogues like New York, London, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. More than 10 years ago, Progressive synagogues began holding their own Pride Shabbats as a way of showing that they were open and welcoming of LGBTI Jews, and the trend has only increased.

In 2012, in Denver, Colorado, no bastion of American progressivism, Keshet, the national LGBTI Jewish organisation, will hold its fourth annual “Pride Seder” over Passover, with more than 150 attendees and cosponsorship from such “radical” organisations as the Anti-defamation League, the august Reform Temple Emanuel, and several Conservative synagogues. In June, it will host a community-wide Pride Shabbat event, again with co-sponsorship from most major Jewish institutions, aside from Orthodox ones, who are still reluctant to be publicly supportive of LGBTI Jewish celebrations even if they are more and more supportive of LGBTI Jews.

June is a tough sell on the Jewish calendar, but an easy sell conceptually to the Jewish community. After all, pride celebrations are primarily about political and civil rights, something that Jews are all too familiar with. In the late 18th century, the United States and the French Republic granted Jewish men citizenship, forever establishing the idea that Jews should be grateful to other citizens for the idea of their political and civil rights. In 1948, a group of countries called the United Nations granted Jews a nation-state, forever establishing the idea that Jews should be grateful to other nation-states for Israel’s creation and potential survival. Jews know something about feeling like guests in other peoples’ countries and, at their best, embrace political and civil rights for other people denied those rights, no matter the denomination of the Jew. Because Pride is generally organised around political and civil rights, it is not challenging for Jewish communities to support these celebrations.

But in Australia, Jewish communities have an opportunity to do something more profound – engage Mardi Gras on Judaism’s terms through the lens of Purim. Purim is, after all, Judaism’s Mardi Gras, its fat holiday of carnivalesque celebration. But unlike Christian Mardi Gras, a day of transgression before the real work of bodily discipline, for Jews, Purim is at its core about the holiness of transgression and, in the words of Rabbi Elliot Kukla, “the redemptive potential of masquerade”. The rabbinic adage that on Purim Jews are commanded to drink “until you do not know (ad delo yada),” is about releasing Jews from their social norms to see the infinite possibility in each person and in each experience.

Like Yom Kippur (or as the rabbis punned on it in Hebrew, yom ha-kippurim, a day like Purim), Jews suspend our daily rituals and our daily realities.

On Yom Kippur, we do this by abstaining, and on Purim we do this by revelling in worldly pleasures. Even the Rambam recognised how important Purim was to the future health of Jews and Judaism as he dreamed about the Messianic age when: “All prophetic books and the Sacred Writings will cease to be recited in public during the Messianic era except the Book of Esther. It will continue to exist just as the five books of the Torah … will never cease.”

This year, Mardi Gras and Purim fall in the same week, a clear sign to take seriously the sages’ call to break down boundaries and celebrate hidden identities. So, no matter your religious background, level of observance, or denominational affiliation, get out and celebrate this Mardi Gras. The Rambam wouldn’t have it any other way.

Professor David Shneer is director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Queer Jews. He recently visited Australia as a keynote speaker for the annual Australian Association for Jewish Studies Conference.