Masking and Unmasking for Purim


The rabbis of Jewish tradition liked a good pun. So when it came to Purim, the great Jewish holiday of jokes and merrymaking, they decided to play around with its name. Oddly enough though they claimed that the holiday is deeply connected to Yom Kippur. “Yom,” in Hebrew, means “Day,” while “Kippur” generally means “Atonement;” but “ki” can mean “like” and “Pur” is the root of the word “Purim,” the lottery by which, according to the story, the wicked Haman chose the date he wished to get rid of all the Jews. So the ancient rabbis said, “Don’t call Yom Kippur ‘the Day of Atonement’ but rather ‘a day like Purim.’ “FullSizeRender

This was one of the texts we looked at recently with the Jewish Studio Project, as they led their “Masking and Unmasking for Purim” session for adults at the Oshman Family JCC. Rather than simply party, it was a chance to prepare for the holiday and look deeper into Purim.

We found out that the holiday can be seen as the raucous carnival flip-side to Yom Kippur’s sombre sobriety, and that somehow both approaches are needed over the course of the year. We also looked into Purim’s themes of hiddenness, disguise and reversal, and finished by making masks of our own, deciding what kind of personas we wished to represent and take on through our art.

It may all sound very serious, but in fact it had that perfect combination of play and reflection. As we got messy with glue, glitter, feathers, paint and cardstock, making our masks, we also tried combinations of wine and hamentashen, the special triangular cookies we eat on Purim.

Purim UnmaskedIt was the first time that the Oshman Family JCC collaborated with the Jewish Studio Project, an innovative organization from the East Bay that aims to activate “creativity in individuals and communities to reclaim Jewish values, make meaning in our lives and restore hope to the world.” It is rare to experience something at once so fun and educational. Look out for more from Jewish Studio Project in the future—going by their Purim workshop, we are already looking forward to welcoming them here again.

Happy Purim everyone!

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Joel Stanley

Written by Joel Stanley

Joel is the Oshman Family JCC’s former Director of Jewish Innovation. It was his job to infuse programs with Jewish values and content while helping create new forms of Jewish expression. Originally from London, UK, he doubles as an actor, director, and theatre-maker. Joel's other passions include Burning Man, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, and Scrabble.

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