A few weeks ago I received the following text from my 12th grade son: I'm dressing as Isis for Purim. I smiled and thought Great; nice idea; then a second later: How does he know who Isis is? How does he know what she looked like? I went to Google and typed in Isis, waiting for pictures of the Egyptian goddess to pop up on my screen. I knew he'd want my help putting together the costume.  

That's when it hit me: He wasn't dressing as the goddess Isis.

I'm not sure what felt worse: the fact that I was so naïve as to have believed that he had actually chosen a costume based on an Ancient World figure or the realization of exactly which Isis he meant--definitely a little of both.

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My confusion no doubt stemmed from the fact that here in Israel ISIS is called Da'ash (literally דאעש) and it's rarely mentioned by its English name--even in my English-speaking household. There is something about the Hebrew version, with its natural guttural sound, that's a lot more satisfying than the prissy, sibilant English one.   



The decision to dress up as ISIS wasn't all that surprising; after all, many costumes are based on cultural icons. Those images of men in black standing directly behind a cuffed kneeling victim in orange, yes, those brutal and horrifying images, pop up in the media as often as ones of Kim Kardashian in various stages of undress. That being said, choosing to recreate these villains definitely verged on sick.

I didn't say a word; merely stood aside and watched the preparations commence. Black long-sleeves shirts and parachute pants were purchased. Scary head coverings, some bona fide army versions of combat soldier variety, others hijab look-alikes that spoke more of modesty than terrorism, were procured. Since real knives weren't allowed at school (Thank God), make-shift blades were created from large plastic toys. I wasn't involved with the preparation for the Orange team and must admit that, from the get-go, I was delighted to know that my son would be in black. I wasn't crazy about the "my son the terrorist" theme but preferred that to "my son the victim."

On the morning of the official Purim festivities my son and his friends got dressed up together and posed for a few pictures. One especially memorable one featured my son (frankly one of the sweetest children I know) holding my cocker spaniel around the neck while pressing a knife (the plastic one!) to her throat. Just lovely! Reservations began to set in. It dawned on me, albeit a bit late, to ask if they'd received permission to dress up as, basically, terrorists. The answer was yes. They had specifically gone to their teacher and asked if it was okay to dress up as ISIS. I was impressed! So basically they were good boys, right? They asked first!

Nevertheless, that one photograph had put me on edge. I hadn't really taken the time to process what was happening—what it all meant. Just before leaving for school my son ran back into his room; he'd almost forgotten one last part of the costume: a homemade banner. Now I was really concerned. I followed them out to the car, running ahead a bit to peek at the scribbled war cry. I smiled: There was a hand-drawn picture of a cat and the words HELLO KITTY. What had I expected? After all, they were good boys.

Flash forward several hours, my son came home and informed me that their costume had come in third place at the high school contest—no small feat in such a large high school, the competition was no doubt fierce. Apparently their small presentation, no beheading but quite a few threatening exhortations and a celebratory dance, exactly what one can see on the nightly news, had been quite impressive.

Despite their considered success my son was a bit disappointed; they hadn't won because a few teachers had been offended. This came as no surprise whatsoever; after all the costume was definitely in poor taste. Nevertheless, it begged the larger question: Just because something's tasteless, is it necessarily inappropriate? There were certainly other tasteless costumes on hand this year including mockeries of homeless as well as Hamas operatives. In fact, a survey of high schools and various adult Purim parades throughout Israel indicates that ISIS was apparently a wildly popular costume choice this year, with John the Jihadist being a particular favorite. Furthermore, the 14th candidate on the current HaBayit HaYehudi's ballot specifically used the theme to suggest what awaits those who don't vote for her party in the upcoming election, posting a picture of herself in the role of the victim on Facebook. Again, just lovely!

The dust has settled. Purim is behind us. Yet the popularity of the ISIS costume proves that these insane terrorists have managed to become forever memorialized within the visual iconography of 2014-2015. Superman, Marilyn and Mickey Mouse will just have to move over and make room. Times, they are a-changin'.

 


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