purim

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Spotlight: Megillat Esther

Purim begins with the Fast of Esther at sundown this evening. The ceremony begins with the reading of the Megillah, or Scroll of Esther. Here we present the 2007 facsimile of an 18th-century megillah held by the Gross Family of Israel (one of the finest collections of Judaica in the world). The facsimile was produced by Facsimile Editions of London in an edition of 295 copies. This company is well known for producing state-of-the-art facsimiles of Hebrew illuminated manuscripts. This was their first attempt at printing a reproduction directly onto sheepskin parchment, rather than the usual method of having paper milled to the weight and texture of parchment to create a simulation. The original scroll case was also carefully reproduced by hand in sterling silver.

This particular scroll includes miniatures produced by an anonymous artist of virtually every scene of the story. A curious aspect of this megillah is that the text was written after the illuminations were completed; a reversal of the common practice.

Find this facsimile in the catalog here.

– MAX

For Purim holiday, Israeli Jewish highschool students dress up as the KKK

Yes, this is as bad as it looks. It’s also funny seeing light skinned Jews blatantly aligning themselves with white supremacy- a white supremacy which has historically maligned them including violence from the KKK against Jews. But none of that matters, does it, especially as many light skinned Jews gain access to white privilege in most instances within the US (although not in Europe). 

According to AlJazeera, the principle of the school reportedly said, “The costume was designed to create interesting and important discussions." She added, "This act essentially created a platform where discussion can exist. There would be no difference if it were a Nazi costume."  

The principal said the students would not be punished. 

Students have written that they "have no regrets”

How surprising is this, though, coming from the country that prides itself on being the “Western democracy” in the Middle East, while it is simply a racist apartheid state structured around the oppression and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and antiblackness against Eritreans, South Sudanese and members of Beta Israel. “No regrets” when you can escape into a position of privilege as local oppressors.

And to add insult to injury comments like this from the Jewish Task Force:

Shameful and disgusting.

(h/t AlJazeera)

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The Amazing Spiderman swoops into Purim spirit at Israeli children’s hospital.

For the young patients of the Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, this Purim holiday was out of this world. Thanks to two volunteer window washers who dressed up as superheroes, the sick children were treated to a fantastic surprise: Spiderman dangling from ropes outside the hospital’s windows.

The children and their families could not participate in celebrations outdoors, so hospital staff swooped in to the rescue and brought the fun to them.

A Jew is Always too Late: a Spiel on Purim

Jews are always a little late.  It’s a rule of our culture that if you’re going to a Jewish event, you have to expect that it’s going to start late, because there’s always going to be a crowd of people who need an extra ten minutes.  The Jewish relationship with time is a complicated one.

In fact, I can think of lots of examples–Nazi Germany most notably–where the Jews were even late to realizing that someone was really serious about coming to kill us.  We often figure out, only just as the mob is showing up at the synagogue door, that they weren’t kidding.

For a clever people, we are sometimes slow on the uptake.

In history’s narrative, the Jews are seldom the mob.  You’d think we’d have figured out by now that we’re usually the ones the mob is coming to burn and kill with its torches and pitchforks.

Except on Purim.  

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I consider myself a feminist, and I also strive to combat other axes of oppression in my daily life, but sometimes I fall through. Far too often, I’ll stay quiet when I hear someone make a transphobic comment or a misogynistic remark. Some days I’m really not up to challenging that person, but other times I just let myself believe that it’s not my battle, that it doesn’t matter, that someone else will take care of it.

It’s through this lens that I look at Esther’s choice to confront King Ahashverosh and Haman. She knew that she would be risking her life to do so. Why her? Why was it she who had to be brave for her people? She told Mordechai she couldn’t do it, and Mordechai responded, “Who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” [Esther 4:14, JPS translation] As we all know, Esther did confront the men, and she saved the day.

I invite us all to be like Esther and make the choice to speak up for ourselves and our communities, even through discomfort and doubt. While few of us have a platform of power like her royal position, we all have ways, however small, to change our world. And there are a lot of women already doing this. One woman who embodies this is Laverne Cox.

Laverne is a black transgender woman and an actress, playing Sophia Burset on the Netflix original series Orange Is The New Black. Sophia is also a black trans woman, and the fact that Laverne plays her is, sadly, a breakthrough. Very often, trans woman characters will be played by cisgender men, like in the movie Dallas Buyers Club for which Jared Leto won the Oscar. While having a cisgender man play a trans woman may seem like just an actor playing a role, it is actually harmful to trans acceptance. Not only does it keep trans actresses like Laverne from getting jobs, but it also plays into the idea that trans women are not really women, but are men dressing the part. This is not true, and having an out transgender actress like Laverne helps combat that perception.

But Laverne’s activism goes far beyond the show. She uses her platform to speak out about issues that go far too often unheard: the violence against trans women of color, and the incarceration of many who survive for daring to defend themselves. In part because of Orange is the New Black, Laverne is one of the most visible transgender women in the United States. She has more than 60,000 followers on Twitter, and she uses that platform to bring attention to the oppression that her people face. (Just like Esther, but a little more high-tech.)

A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to see Laverne speak. At the event, which was called, “Ain’t I a Woman? My Journey To Womanhood,” she talked about her own life, and about Islan Nettles and CeCe McDonald. Both are black trans women, both were brutally attacked because of their identity. Islan was murdered, and CeCe survived, but was imprisoned for defending herself. She’s free now, and working with Laverne to make a documentary about her attack and incarceration.

These women’s experiences are far too common. Transgender women of color are the group most likely to be murdered out of the LGBT+ community, simply for being who they are, and their murderers often walk free, and the fact that these women are not part of our public consciousness brings me back to the Purim story.

Because if Laverne is like Esther, then we, all of us, are King Ahashverosh. We are the ones who have the power to change our environments, and yet we’re not doing enough. King Ahashverosh gave up his power to the evil Haman when he listened to him without questioning his reasoning. When we let our prejudices and preconceptions go unchecked, we are allowing our own inner Hamans to take over. We need to be more conscious about the way we act and think.

—  Laverne Cox: A Modern Day Queen Esther by Miriasha Borsykowsky

Now that it’s the month of Adar, Purim is coming up in less than two weeks! The book of Esther has one of my favourite verses in the whole TaNaKh:

And who knows — perhaps it was for a moment like this that you became a queen?

Let me try to explain why I love this verse so much. The book of Esther is the only book in the Bible where the name of G!d does not appear even once. The story is entirely driven by humans, their actions, and their choices. The Jews in Persia face annihilation under the decree of the wicked Haman (boo) and Esther has to make the difficult choice of risking her life in order to try to save her people. This moment in the story (4:14), pretty much right in the middle, is the turning point. Esther makes her decision, reverses the trajectory of destruction, saves the Jewish people… and the rest is history.

But at this moment she doesn’t know that! She decides to step forward and change the course of the narrative, not knowing whether she would survive. “If I perish,” she says, “I perish.” It is that attitude of courage, I think, that carries us through a world where we don’t know if we will manage to save the day — but we do know that if we don’t step forward, no-one else will. This verse is my mantra: “perhaps it was for THIS moment that I became a queen!” Maybe this is the moment that I have been waiting for.

As a queer Jew, there is something especially empowering about the language of ‘queen-ness’. That while we all may wear a variety of masks and disguises in our day-to-day, we are, in fact, royalty. We are queens! A term that I have chosen to wear with pride. And maybe there’s a purpose — maybe I have become a queen just in order to reach this moment. That my life has given me the tools to prepare me, precisely for a moment like this.

And who knows — perhaps
it was for a moment like this
that you became a queen?

Happy Adar!

Calligraphy by me — see more at my website!

i JUST REALISED THAT NO-ONE HAS DONE A PURIM ASKMEME FOR JUMBLR YET
  • mishenichnas Adar:what things always make you happy?
  • ad d'lo yada:how do 'substances' affect you?
  • rash rash rash:what's your favourite jewish song?
  • ta'anit esther:do you tend to fast well?
  • esther:do you feel that the way others see you is similar to who you are?
  • hadassah:in your opinion, what's the most beautiful jewish sight?
  • mordechai:when did you feel most jewish?
  • megillah:tell a really good story (can be something that happened to you or a retelling of someone else's story)
  • hamantashen:what's your favourite hamantashen filling?
  • oznei haman:which hebrew style do you prefer/use? (eg ashkie, ivrit, sefardi, mizrachi, etc)
  • haman:if you could totally remove one thing from the world, what would it be?
  • shushan purim:what's an architectural feature or building you really like?
  • shushan:what's your favourite flower?
  • VASHTI:wild card. talk about whatever you want!

i find the elements about purim that emphasize hiding and deception so intensely powerful—the swaths of fabric hiding something, the clothing and costumes that esther wears (or does not wear) and the promises she tries not to make. i find myself looking at a reluctant heroine—a girl who wants to stay alive and somehow become a queen, an emissary, a role model, a symbol. she reminds me so much of so many other young girls who are thrust into the spotlight by decisions other people have made for her and about her—girls like rachel beyda. girls who have to grow a backbone and find out who they are underneath the lies they’ve learned to tell in order to keep themselves alive.

i find the story of purim so much more than a story about the jewish people, a war, and victory. the story is about people—about individuals who made really hard choices in a world where hard choices might have meant death. it’s a story where Hashem’s hand is hidden—where a sea won’t split to save you, where the clouds of glory won’t descend and wrap you in walls of fire. it’s a story of responsibility, of hope, of empowerment. it’s a story of honesty: life is hard. you will have to lie. you will have to hide. you will not want to take up the mantle of responsibility the world seems to want you—you!—to hold onto.

but that fear won’t make you any less of a queen.

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Sundown marks the Jewish holiday of Purim, a celebration marked by feasts, gifts, and readings from the scroll of the Book of Esther, in which the story of Purim is told. Esther, a young Jewish woman, becomes Queen of Persia and saves her people from a planned genocide. The Scroll of Esther is traditionally unrolled using a single roller affixed to the left hand side, instead of two, one at each end of the scroll. It must thus always be rolled to the beginning of the scroll. Our copy is from 18th-century Germany and is made from sheepskin parchment. DB

“The Book of Esther.” Bible–Manuscripts, Sephardic (Germany, 18th Century)
Post-1650 MS 0062

What does henna have to do with Purim? A great question.

It’s possible that henna was one of the cosmetics that Esther used to make herself beautiful and win the heart of the king Ahashverosh. This is supported by a beautiful custom once practiced in the Kurdish Jewish community, known as khiyapit benatha, ’the bath of the maidens’; the night before Purim, the young girls of the village would all be hennaed and told that they were as beautiful as Queen Esther. Here’s how Erich Brauer described it (1947: 281):

“The second bath, which the girls prepare with the wood they gathered, happens on lel Purim [Purim eve]. As a result of this additional bath, the maidens become as beautiful on Purim as Esther when she appeared before the king [Ahasuerus] — so they believe. For this reason, they call this bath khiyapit benatha, ase ileni shiprit Ister, ‘bath of the maidens, may the beauty of Esther come to us.’… Their mothers accompany them. Henna is prepared… Then each girl is dyed with henna (this is in Amadiyya). After the dyeing, mothers bathe their daughters and sing narike [a marriage song - the words are narine hai nare, the bride is adorned] the way they sing for a bride, and throw at them roses and nuts. Thus they bathe all the maidens one after another in a set order (this is in Amadiyya and Zakho).”

I love this tradition so much. I love that this ceremony involves all the girls of the village, and I love that they are told that they become as beautiful as Queen Esther. I love that the mothers sing songs to their daughters and shower them with treats. I love that it represents an innovative and uniquely-Jewish ritual that combines the symbolism of a Jewish holiday with henna’s local associations with beauty and celebration. And above all, I love that it reminds us that we have royalty inside of us, and that henna can bring that out! A powerful message for all of us to remember.

There’s a longer article about this on my blog. Check it out! And happy Purim!

Photo: Kurdish Jewish girl, Sundur, mid-20th century.

ok but imagine hogwarts around purim. harry asking hermione what she’s doing out of her school robes and costumed. parts of every table mysteriously covered with hamentashen, and some of the students smiling and laughing a little louder than usual. services held in each dorm quietly, letters home, and moving pictures with all the outfits.