Captain Purim-ica: The Superhero Within

By Esther D. Kustanowitz

Purim Superhero

It’s been said that many Jewish holidays can be summed up as “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” We can also sum up most superhero movies that way.  No other holiday follows this superhero plot more closely than PURIM!

On Purim, we read Megillat Esther, which aids us in retelling the holiday’s origin story. This holiday, which starts on the evening of Monday, March 9, has everything: kings and queens, persecution and deception, a beauty contest, an evil advisor, droids, Jedis, eunuchs, undercover Jews, redemption, scroll-scripting, and–naturally–triangular pastries. (Except droids and Jedis. We wanted to make sure you were paying attention.)

There are other customs of course, feeding the poor and sending packages of ready-to-eat foods to your neighbors, mitzvot called “matanot la’evyonim” and “mishloach manot,” respectively. And you’ve definitely got opinions about which fillings are most appropriate for hamantaschen, the aforementioned triangular pastry. But for many, including the children in our lives, Purim is all about the costumes. And whether you’re dressed as Captain Marvel or the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, you’re celebrating one of Purim’s main themes: understanding that not everything is as it appears.

The Purim story is full of status reversals, with people and situations of masked intent. Things are never quite what they seem: people who seem to have power (Haman) are overturned by those who seem powerless (Mordechai, Esther, and well, the Jews); one queen refuses to entertain the commands of her husband, and her successor rises to queenly status under an assumed name — Esther, instead of her other name, Hadassah –and under the assumption that she will be more compliant, which she is until she realizes that she must speak out to save the Jews. She does so by stepping into the light, revealing her own secret Jewish identity. Who is the superhero? Esther the queen? Or the inner Hadassah? Discuss amongst yourselves. [Cool fact: the name Esther, which comes from the Persian word for “star,” also evokes the Hebrew words “nistar,” which means “hidden,” and “seter,” which means “secret.”]

While early costumes used to, appropriately, connect to the holiday of Purim and the characters in the Megillah, today’s costumes run the gamut, from Star Wars and Disney themes, to more clever, of the moment, or topical costumes — one year saw a number of interpretations of “stimulus packages” and usually Ruth Bader Ginsburg costumes abound. Our prediction for this year is for some Baby Yodas, plus election, debate, impeachment themes and TikTok video tributes.

So when you choose your Purim costume this year, really think about it: What is your secret identity? How are you hiding your true self? What aspects of yourself can you reveal for this one day a year? And who is your inner superhero? What can they do for the world?

Purim costumes are meant to remind us that we don’t always know who or what we’re looking at, and that a reversal of fortune — in either direction –can happen at any time. This one day a year when we celebrate the superhero within reminds us that we have power within us, but must use it wisely.

Because with great Purim, comes great responsibility.

Happy Purim! Chag Sameach!

Esther D. Kustanowitz is a writer, editor and consultant based in Los Angeles.

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