Purim: Removing Our Masks

Today, the Jewish community celebrates Purim, a holiday about bravery and advocacy. Among its many themes, the story of Purim reminds us about the challenges of heroism & leadership, and the importance of representation and identity.

JFS Board Member, Christina Richter, shared that Purim reminds her of hidden things. In this story, many people are not whom they appear to be… most notably, Purim’s heroine, Esther, hides her Jewish heritage from her husband, the King. Acknowledging the much more serious, historical need to hide one’s identity, modern celebrations of Purim recognize the action of “disguise” by incorporating the tradition of masquerading as someone else.

“We don’t only do this on Purim,” Richter points out. “Many of us walk around in a disguise on a regular basis, hiding our feelings and our challenges – concealing our not so perfect lives.”

Christina continued to share her personal connections with this message:

“My own family story is about living in disguise. My grandfather would tell me stories when we would visit him about the importance of our last name – Richter – meaning Judge. He would say that, in his village, everyone had a job…the Carpenters, the Millers, and so on. I was a child and didn’t understand what deeper message he was trying to pass along. He died in 1987, still wearing the mask he created to fit into a world he feared – a world in which he felt forced to hide his Jewish identity.

“My adult self would tell him now not to be ashamed or live in fear. I would tell him that taking off our masks can lead us to the greatest gifts – pride in our identities and a true sense of community. I’m grateful to live in a community in which I can be proud of who I am and have the space to celebrate and reclaim my family’s identity in a way my grandfather couldn’t. Community and identity are powerful forces, which we are reminded to appreciate through the Purim story.”

Certainly, we all have these stories about discovering our identities, each with different cross-sections and intersectional experiences which make us each unique. Sharing such stories in and across our communities can inspire others and create more authentic connections and experiences.

Creating and maintaining this kind of safe space for authenticity and personal exploration is a priority at JFS – it’s what we do every day in our offices and out in the community. We help people accept and live their truths; we help them find comfort where there may have been sorrow, portray confidence and bravery where there might have been fear or shame; we help people find and embrace the courage to take off their masks.

Purim is a reminder of the fine line between reality and illusion. Blurring that line, whether once a year on Purim or more discreetly in our everyday lives, makes it easy to lose sight of our authentic selves and what makes each of us uniquely great. JFS is inspired by our Jewish values and the historic Purim story; we are committed to serving everyone and anyone as they embrace their own identities and celebrate the diversity of our community…no masks required.