Masquerade


“Beware the beautiful masked woman on Purim.”

I texted a young friend after midnight on Saturday night, before my carriage turned into a Purim
pumpkin. Because when he saw me, he didn’t know it was me.

I suppose I couldn’t blame him: My hair was blown out straight and silky, I was wearing a fancy lace strapless number because I’d been at a wedding that day and, for the occasion of Purim, I donned an extravagant purple-feathered eye mask.

I didn’t exactly mean to go incognito, but when my friend Ben didn’t recognize me — even after chatting with me for a minute at the noisy Purim carnival — I realized I was onto something: I could be anyone.

Don’t get me wrong, I like myself. I “really, really like me.” Most of the time, anyway. But there are scant opportunities in life to observe other people at their most boisterous and maintain anonymity — unless you count watching reality television. This was my chance to actually interact with people who were being completely and totally themselves, albeit dressed up as something other than themselves.

Costumes have a way of doing that for a person; paradoxically, by shifting their persona, they can shine and be their best selves.

This is probably why I have always loved “fancy dress” parties. Growing up religious, Purim was one of my only opportunities for wearing a costume, aside from theme parties (preppie/nerd, literary characters, etc.). In the last few years I’ve added Halloween to my repertoire, but here in Los Angeles a costume party seems to be an excuse to dress as sluttily as possible — which, in principle, I’m not necessarily against — but bearing one’s belly button, to my mind, defies the whole notion of not revealing oneself.

For me, just dressing up is not enough. On Thursday, at a Purim party at Pearl’s, sponsored by Atid, Stephen S. Wise and Taglit/Birthright, I was a flapper in a white shimmying dress, white stole and long cigarette (I didn’t inhale). It was glam and fun (I won a prize! Although I came in behind “Jews for Cheeses”).

But at Saturday night’s Ikar social justice carnival I realized what I really want from a costume party: To be masked. Concealed. Hidden. Veiled. I suppose I could have gone in a burka (topical, yet modest!), but I think my dramatic streak has always yearned for masquerade balls of old — women swathed in layers of satin, bewigged in piles of curls, corseted in laces that squeezed the lifeblood out of them, ensconced behind bejeweled masks — identities so subsumed they could lose themselves for the night.

And so it came to pass, in the Time of the New Millennia in the land of Angels … at J-Connect’s party on Sunday night, I went completely undercover. To match my purple mask, I wore a purple lace vintage dress (wire stays instead of corset) and the most mysterious smile I could muster. Because, apparently, it’s not the eyes that are the window to the soul, but the smile.

“Is that Amy Klein?” said my friend Avi, who had overlooked me in a group conversation until I grinned.

“You should write more because I want to read about someone who feels as miserable as I do,” he said.

I quickly pulled my mask down as I made my way around the room, eavesdropping, conversing, listening and flirting.

Meeting people in costume is a double-edged sword: It’s mysteriously alluring, but what if the man under the sufi hat has no hair?

“What if your cheeks are as fuzzy as your mask?” one suitor asked, begging for a peek. Since it was only my eyes, I lifted the mask for a moment, to assuage him that I wasn’t Chewbacca.

“Do I know you?” others said. I shook my head, no, with a smile.

Tonight I didn’t want to be known. Amid the sea of costumes, from the store-bought (policeman, red riding hood, etc.) to the topical (a dead-on mustachioed Borat) and the minimalist (cowboy/girl, pirate, kitten) and a scantily clad belly dancer or two (see: Halloween), I was one of the few to remain faceless.

What does that say about me? Am I secretly afraid to reveal my truest self? And what does it say about those who don’t dress up at all? Are they so unabashedly themselves they don’t need to hide behind a costume? Or are they just afraid to let go? Do they not know the beauty of the Purim commandment, to get drunk enough so you don’t know the difference between “Cursed Haman” and “Blessed Mordechai?” (Do they even know who Haman and Mordechai are?) Do they not know that Purim is a time to shake it up a bit; be someone you normally aren’t — or at least different from how others may see you?

That was what my costume afforded me: the ability to escape others’ perception of me for the evening. Yes, behind the mask, it was still me in there, intermittently wondering things like, what am I doing here? Why can’t I be lying on my couch reading the Sunday New York Times? Does red wine stain? But no one knew it was me, and that allowed me to mostly escape myself. My sometimes fabulous, sometimes neurotic, multifaceted, misunderstood self.

So yes, t’was I behind the purple plumed feathers. Sorry if I didn’t say hello.

But heads-up for next Purim: I think I’ll be wearing a burka.

Kids Page


The Summer Fast

In the middle of summer, when it is the hottest, we are told that we cannot eat or drink for one whole day. It was on the ninth of Av that the Romans burned Jerusalem and destroyed our Temple. Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av) falls this year on Sunday, Aug. 14. The fast begins the night before at sunset.

The rabbis say that the Temple fell because of “senseless hatred” among fellow Jews. Solve the word search and discover the hidden message. It will tell you what senseless hatred is. Put the words you need to find together in the right order so that you will know what not to do.

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

SPREADING

EXCLUDING

GOSSIP

MAKING

MOUTHING

RUMORS

bad

FUN

Cool Collages

What you need:

1. Photo of someone or something dear to you: a family member, a pet, a friend, a teacher, a place, a favorite activity.

2. Magazines

3. Scissors

4. Construction paper

“Love Me Later” is a storybook about a Jewish boy named Abe. He spends an afternoon discovering life — exploring his backyard. The author, Julie Baer, has illustrated her book by creating intricate collages. You, too, should spend an afternoon exploring this book and then doing the collage activity that Julie has created just for you.

For the Kids


Upside-Down Holiday

"Vanahafochu!" This is Purim’s most important word. It means: "And everything was turned upside down!" That is the story and the message of Purim. The people who were victims became victors; the servant became the master; the Jewish girl became a queen.

Esther’s name means "hidden" in Hebrew. So what are we being told? That there are two sides to everything — the side we see and the side we don’t.

Find the hidden Purim word. What do the letters in the circles spell?

On Purim, we read

the whole: __ __ O __ __ __ __ __

The Color of STOP!: O __ __

Purim’s bad guy: __ O __ __ __

The color of GO!: O__ __ __ __

Opposite of small: __ __ O

Purim’s queen: O__ __ __ __ __

The best Jewish

holiday in Adar!: __ __O __ __

Limits Needed to Set Path for Youths


A few weeks ago, three students at Milken Community Jewish High School in Los Angeles were expelled for making a sexually explicit video of themselves that was eventually seen by members of the student community. Many parents and teachers in the Jewish community have expressed confusion at how educated Jewish students at a school like Milken did what they did.

But to think that what happened at Milken is isolated to the particulars of the parent-child relationships of the families involved is myopic — and too easy. To be sure, such behavior is not widespread in our children’s communities. But we can be relatively certain that for every incident brought to light, many more are hidden in the shadows.

Parents and teachers — really all adults — owe it to those three teenagers to take some responsibility for what happened. Those teenagers grew up in the society we created.

We are the adults. They are the kids. We owe it to them to enter the darkness of our confusion and investigate the source of what happens in our midst. We must ask whether what happened is indicative of other things gone awry.

Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the rebbe of Piaseczno, in early 20th century Poland, wrote a book of educational philosophy called, “Chovat Hatalmidim” (“The Student’s Obligation”) to address the problem of young Jews leaving the yeshivot for the tempting world of modernity. He shared our problem: How do we teach children to be their best selves amidst a culture of overwhelming power?

His diagnosis of the problem is as follows: “Today’s youth consider themselves grown up before their time … they have come to see themselves as grown up and independent — in their opinions and in their desires — though their mind is still upside down and their desires unripe and bitter…. This trait causes harm [because] it causes the child to see any guide, teacher, or educator as a foreign overlord who has come to rule over him with a strong hand, and to strip him of his independent mind and will.”

Relationships between parents and children, teachers and students, adults and youth, this generation and the next are complicated. Each of us wants to nurture teens, to help them navigate the complex web of ideas and emotions that define adolescence. Helping them is hardest when it means risking our children’s friendship so we can keep being their parent.

I remember having a fight with my father when I was 15 years old. As happens in most parent-teenager relationships, it was not unheard of for us to have a disagreement turn heated and eventually end with us yelling at each other.

But this fight ended differently. At the end of this fight, I got so upset at something my dad said (sadly, today I do not even remember what it was he said or even what we were fighting about), I told him, “screw you.”

What happened next I do remember: My father started to kick me out of the house. I managed to apologize quickly enough to avoid eviction, but my dad made it very clear to me that if I was going to speak that way, I was not going to stay in his home.

“You may speak to your friends that way, but you will not use that kind of language with me. I am your father. I am not one of your friends.”

“That’s right!” I screamed, “you’re not my friend.” I said these painful words with all the self-righteous accusation I could muster, hoping to win the argument by making my dad feel that he had failed me. His response was one I never expected and have yet to forget.

“That’s right,” he said. “I’m not your friend. But I am your father. You should feel lucky that you have a father and not just a friend.”

I believe Rabbi Shapira would have agreed. Now, so do I. I was growing up too fast, and though I craved someone who would make me feel understood, what I needed most in that moment were limits, even at the cost of friendship.

I saw my father as “a foreign overlord” (and tried to treat him like one), but I did not need another person with whom to be lost. I needed someone who knew who he was, against whom I could begin to see the contours of my own self becoming.

But to say that I needed a father, not a friend, was also a false distinction, a straw man I made up to win a petty argument. True friends — like our parents — must teach us, love us and help us to grow not by accepting who we are but by sensing something of our essence, our hope, something of who we can be and lifting us beyond ourselves. They succeed not by shying away from a fight, but by being willing to risk what is for what can be.

Parenting this way is painful and tiring. The midrash teaches that words of critique are like bees — they hurt the one who is stung but kill the one who stings.

I love my sons from a place of indescribable depth and they know it. When I rebuke one of them, I feel it for days. I simply hate it. It takes a heavy toll I bear with me as I walk on the street.

I am not alone — it is a burden we must all help to bear: parents, grandparents, teachers and God. But we must do so because we are neither our children’s parents nor their friends if we fail to tell them when they are wrong.

“As children become adolescents, even the best parents struggle as their teenagers are influenced by their peers and the popular culture we adults are creating for them. A few weeks ago, three Jewish teenagers learned that it was unacceptable to make a sexually explicit film of themselves. They learned our society has limits about what is acceptable to do with our bodies at a young age in public. They should have known better. But could it be that they were only doing what our society never told them was wrong?


Rabbi Daniel Greyber is executive director of Camp Ramah and the Max and Pauline Zimmer Conference Center.