Thursday, February 13, 2014

Do You Have a Red Bandana? by Rabbi Emily Mathis and Rabbi Deborah Zuker

Rabbi Emily Mathis and Rabbi Deborah Zuker are Parenting Through a Jewish Lens instructors at Temple Ner Tamid in the North Shore. 

Purim is by far the silliest, most playful holiday on the Jewish calendar. Children in particular enjoy the customs of Purim - dressing up in costumes, cheering the heroes Mordechai and Esther and booing the villain Haman, eating hamantashen (be they poppy-, apricot-, or chocolate-filled). It may seem amid all this silliness that Purim is a holiday primarily for children.

Actually, there are many aspects and themes to Purim that are very much intended for adults. Purim costumes customarily include gender-bending; the humor of the Purim-shpiel (an amateur play that tells the Purim story) is often adult and full of timely and inside jokes, and there is a commandment to drink alcohol to the point where one can no longer tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman (not for children!). For the intellectuals among us, the story of Purim includes many nuanced and mature themes: What is the role of God in human affairs? What is the experience of Jews living as a minority amid a majority culture? Do we hide our Jewishness? Do we try to 'pass'? What is the appropriate moral response to the suffering of our enemies? How do we reveal the hidden or uncertain aspects of who we are?

As parents, we think an awful lot about what behaviors and values we model for our kids. We say 'please' and 'thank you' so that they will learn politeness. We clean up after ourselves so that they will learn cleanliness. In the realm of Jewish modeling, we say blessings on Friday night so that they will learn to value Shabbat. We refrain from eating bread during Passover so that they will learn Jewish history and narrative, and identifying with the stranger. We help them with their Bar or Bat Mitzvah studies because we want to show that we value Jewish learning and engagement.

But in addition to the important but more serious aspects of life, do we also pay attention to modeling silliness and playfulness for our kids – in our Jewish lives? Or do we model breaking out of our familiar ways of being in the world, developing flexibility in who we are? They dress up and enjoy Purim, but do you, as a parent, also dress up and enjoy Purim? When we model Jewish living for our children, we must be conscious of modeling ALL of it – no part of Judaism is only for children. Jewish living is a life-long pursuit. It is a full-bodied experience.

So do you have a red bandana? You don't need a fancy store-bought costume to get into the Purim spirit along with your kids. A red (or any color) bandana, a plaid shirt and jeans, and you are instantly transformed into a farmer for Purim. Voilà! Happy Purim!

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