Tuesday, January 27, 2009

BEND IN THE ROAD, Guidepost Two ~ Purim

The Holiday of Purim and "In the Lion's Den"
offers religious Jewish children an opportunity to dress up in funny clothes and as the people who are the main characters in the holiday in a manner similiar to Halloween, a holiday not celebrated by more orthodox Jews. After all, Haloween is associated with pagan themes, but Purim -- as joyous and free wheeling as Mardi Gras -- easily fills the need for fun. In fact, one is encouraged to drink until you can't tell the difference between Haman, the villain and Mordecai, the hero. The holiday also offers religious adults an unusual chance to indulge in atypical clothing choices as discussed below.
Here's a very brief description of the background of the holiday.

The Book of Esther or the Megilla of Esther, recounts how the Jews of Persia were saved from destruction. During the reign of the King Ahasuerus, one of his advisors, Haman, attempted to destroy the Jews in revenge for being ignored by Mordecai, a Jew who refused to bow down to him. Given the king's permission, Haman draws lots (purim) to determine the day when the king's soldiers will set upon the Jewish citizens. The date falls upon the 13th of the Hebrew month of Adar.
Mordecai finds out about the decree and approaches his cousin Esther, the king's new queen, to intercede with the king. Esther, who has kept her religion a secret, fasts for three days to gain courage to come before her husband. She speaks out against Haman at a banquet for the king and Haman. Haman is hanged and Mordecai assumes his position. Because a royal decree cannot be repealed, Mordecai sends another decree to all the provinces. This one empowers the Jews to protect themselves from their enemies. They do and overcome the soldiers. The days following this struggle with their enemies (the 14th and 15th of Adar) are declared days of feasting and festivity, and today are observed as Purim.

So, how does Purim relate to my story?
"In the Lion's Den", the first story in BEND IN THE ROAD, is set during the holiday of Purim. The story was submitted for MLR's cross-dressing anthology and the celebration of Purim has long been associated with cross-dressing and other unique issues. When I researched the holiday I found that parodies and entertainment that mocked established Judaism were a widespread component of Purim observances.
I learned that written records of the Purim shpiel (Yiddish for "Purim play") could be found in Europe from the 14th century on. Purim shpiels and entertainments at weddings (as in my second story, "From Stage to Stage") were the sole source of Jewish popular pursuits for centuries. The sarcastic content of Purim plays and the spoofing, cross-dressing, and drunken revelry surrounding them offered an opportunity to explore boundary-crossing matters of gender, sexuality, authority, and relations with the gentile world in a safe setting like the traveling Yiddish theater troupe where crossdressing was common during its early days.
Although there are laws that prohibit cross-dressing, these laws would most likely not prohibit cross-dressing in a private setting or for theatrical purposes. The cross-dressing that appears in "In the Lion's Den" then, would be acceptable. How Dani, the young hero in my story feels about feminine clothing...well...
So, did I surprise you about this holiday?


Alex Beecroft said...

I love the cover! The info about Purim was very interesting and reminded me a bit of our (British) pantomime tradition - lots of cross dressing and irreverence, and social commentary thinly disguised as jokes.

Jeanne said...

Thanks for posting Alex
There definitely is a tie to the panto. In fact, d/t the fairly "catholic" education of many Jews, the works of Shakespeare and other playwrights were commonly translated into Yiddish. Some of the greatest actors of the Yiddish stage in NYC were best known for their Shakespearean roles.

Anonymous said...

Purim has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love the festivity of it, the topsy-turvy aspect, but also the religiosity.

Though why we give gifts of food (usually chametz) a month before Pesach has always confused me. ;-)

Jeanne said...

Thanks for commenting EM.
Can't wait for Purim this year!

Kris said...

I think the education I got while editing these stories was eye opening and so interesting. And hey, it's live now everyone can "learn."

Jeanne said...

Thanks, Kris
I learned a lot, also.
It also brought back memories of my parents and grandparents and my relatives from the Old Country.