Real Israel: Dressing up, dressing down

Before you get drunk, you should be able to tell the difference between good taste and bad habits.

'Sexy‘ maid in Israel’ costumes 390 (photo credit: Liat Collins)
'Sexy‘ maid in Israel’ costumes 390
(photo credit: Liat Collins)
I hate to be a party pooper but there’s something about Purim costumes that I have to get off my chest. They are very revealing. Too revealing.
You don’t have to be hot on ultra-Orthodox dress codes to realize that a lot of the costumes being sold to children and teens in Israeli stores ahead of the holiday are short on modesty and in some cases nothing short of scandalous.
Purim, in general, is the time when boys will be boys and girls will be girls. Visit any kindergarten on the day when kids go in costume and you will see lots of soldiers, superheroes, pirates and fighters and the girls all dressed up as princesses.
By the time they are preteens, however, all this has changed just as surely as fashion fads come and go. A friend and I have pondered over the years what it is about Purim that makes so many Orthodox young men decide to drag out the festivities dressed as women.
Lately, I have also been wondering just why any young woman would want to let others contemplate her navel in a skimpy mockery of a nurse’s uniform, get hooked on the hooker look, or think she is arresting in a police officer’s outfit whose bottom line coincides roughly with the spot on her hips where her handcuffs dangle.
Given that this year, more than Purims past, issues of modesty and gender image have been dominating local headlines, I can’t help but wonder what message we’re giving out. The costumes might encourage a cheap look but they cost a lot, not just in shekels, but in body image.
I was one of those parents earlier this month who was disgusted by the disguises featured in a Purim costume catalogue that arrived with a mass-circulation Hebrew newspaper. It exposed unwitting subscribers to an awful lot of what I can only call tat for tots.
I was pleased to see that I wasn’t the only one who thought the costumes were over the top or under the belt (and in some cases, barely a strip of clothing somewhere in between.) I get a kick out the fact that all the toy stores start stocking up on costumes and accessories pretty much the minute that Hanukka finishes.
I just don’t get a kick out of kinky dresses for teens.
Describing them as “near-pornographic,” the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) has urged consumers to boycott companies selling sexy Purim costumes.
Part of the problem is the “anything goes” atmosphere built in to the holiday.
Last year during a radio interview abroad, I mentioned the annual Purim event at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo in which an elephant competes with the local basketball team in a tug of war (and traditionally wins). “I’m not sure I see the connection between elephants and a religious holiday,” commented the interviewer. And it is hard to explain. But since no other place in the world symbolizes and celebrates Jewish survival like the Jewish state, it is only to be expected that we’d do it in our own peculiar way.
Purim, which this year starts the evening of March 7, is the archetypal Jewish holiday.
To sum up the gantza megilla (the whole big fuss, to use a Purim-appropriate, Yiddish term), Purim falls into the category of Jewish holidays that, we joke, can be summed up in the phrase “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!”
It might not hold a candle to Hanukka when it comes to the length of the celebration, but with its Purimspiels (jokes and parodies), parades and parties, it always provides a welcome light relief.
On Purim, nothing is as it seems. Take its anti-heroine, for example: Vashti puts her foot down, refuses to dance at the king’s ball and disappears from the Book of Esther, while Esther marries the gentile ruler and becomes so popular that her name is passed down among generations of modest Jewish women.
The Purim traditions of dressing up in costumes, giving gifts of food, donating charity to the poor and, above all, blotting out the name of Haman, the evil adviser to the Persian king who advocated killing all the Jews, seem as timely as ever.
But they unmask some difficult dilemmas for parents. Kids want to be free to celebrate the holiday as they see fit, but there’s a fine line between being dressed to kill and dressed to make you die of embarrassment when you flick through your photos in years to come (assuming that this generation actually gets as far as downloading their Purim photos and saving them in some format that will be available for posterity. Never has it been so easy to take Purim snapshots, never has it be so unlikely that they will be printed out and preserved.)
No one is immune to the sartorial satire. While the Shoshi Zohar catalogue featured sexy Santas (there’s no telling what turns some people on), I have found it ironic that in recent years Father Christmas costumes have made vast inroads into ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. It is no longer unusual to see large families celebrating Purim with all the numerous children sporting costumes of what they apparently think is an alte zayde (old grandfather).
It is a commandment on Purim to drink until we “no longer know the difference” between the villainous Haman and the heroic Mordecai. But before you get drunk, you should be able to tell the difference between good taste and bad habits. Hence, I doubt the wisdom of including a sexy nun outfit in a Purim catalogue. And even the Queen Esthers for the very young seem to resemble some generic Disney princess rather than the Persian Jewish heroine of yore.
Then again, if you can’t dress to suit yourself on Purim, when can you?
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