Food for Thought: Cognito or incognito

"Today, dressing up is more about revealing a part of ourselves than it is about hiding."

kids 88 purim (photo credit: )
kids 88 purim
(photo credit: )
The best part of Purim is the dressing up. Some would say it's the food, but after years of dieting and promising that by Pessah I'll fit into "that black skirt," I have changed my mind. Currently, I eye all those sweets and wonderful treats with suspicion. It has therefore been decided that the best part of Purim is the dressing up, and the great shame of it is, how few adults take part in the custom. Dressing up is not one of the four mitzvot we are meant to observe on Purim. In fact, concerning a holiday where little is mentioned in terms of obligations, dressing up isn't mentioned at all. From where does the tradition stem? I found two historical sources. First, in the 16th century, the Italian Gentile community would have their masquerades after Lent, which occurred around the same time as Purim. Thus, the Italian Jewish community adopted the custom of dressing up for their Purim festivities. The second source describes the fulfillment of the mitzva of giving gifts to the poor on Purim. Members of small Jewish communities would put on fancy dress so that the recipient would not recognize the donor, and therefore not feel embarrassed during the rest of the year. A third reason to dress up comes from the whole tone of the Purim story; it is a tale of disguise and mystery. People dressed up and disguised their true identities in efforts to gain access that, in their regular clothing, would otherwise have been denied to them. Esther dresses up as a non-Jewish girl when entering the "Be the Next Queen" contest, Mordechai is dressed in the king's clothing to parade in the streets and God dresses up his actions as coincidence, redefining the word "miracle" for a modern vocabulary. Today, though, dressing up is more about revealing a part of ourselves than it is about hiding. Every year, my boys want to be superheroes. Batman, Superman and Harry Potter have been past requests. This year as my eldest wants to be a "Man in Black" and although I'm unsure how to turn my nine-year-old into Will Smith, it tells me about one thing that every boy wants to have: super powers. They want to grow up and find out that not only are there cool mutants and magicians, but that schools like Hogwarts and Xavier's exist and that their admission letter was simply misplaced. On the other hand, my daughter wants to be a princess and, like her mother before her, she probably has dreams of having been wrongfully switched at birth with the daughter of the king and queen of Belgium. While the boys want to be heroes and the girls want to be royalty, the adults (and I don't mean only those who dress up) want to be anyone but themselves. Take my brother, for example. A serious intellectual who writes books and can calculate the square root of pi in his head. Last Purim, he dressed up as a Rasta - dreadlocks and all - in an effort to find the antithesis of his very existence, if only for a few hours. My father, a consummate world traveler, dresses as one of the many nationalities he meets on his travels, so that despite the reality that travel is exhausting, you knew he truly loved meeting new and different people and feeling like one of them. The above is a preemptive strike. It is an effort to encourage more adults to dress up and celebrate the holiday in its true spirit, to find your inner superhero or princess and take the fancy dress out of the closet. Couscous with Dried Fruit Legend has it that Esther ate only fruits, nuts and grains when she entered the palace to maintain her adherence to kashrut and I can't help but think this is something along the lines of what she would have eaten. Pre-shelled pistachios can be found in the baked goods section of most large supermarkets. 1 cup couscous (half a 350g bag) 1⁄2 teaspoon salt 1 cup boiling water 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 dried dates, chopped 6 dried apricots, chopped 1⁄4 cup shelled pistachios 1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 tablespoon chopped parsley In a large heat-proof bowl, combine couscous, salt and boiling water and cover the bowl with plastic wrap for 10 minutes. In a medium frying pan, heat the oil and add the dates, pistachios and apricots and toss until the fruit is heated through - about a minute. Uncover the couscous. Using a fork, separate and fluff up the grains, add the heated fruit, cinnamon and parsley and mix together.