Purim – A time for wearing masks.

A message from Dan Sztrajt, Assistant Principal (Jewish Life)  

For generations Jews around the world have celebrated the joyous festival of Purim by dressing up and wearing masks, just as Queen Ester masked her Jewish identity. As part of our mitzvah to hear the Megilah, we recount how Mordechai helped Ester hide her Jewish heritage in order to marry King Ahashverosh. Unbeknown to Ester at the time, her masked Jewish identity would ultimately allow her to save the entire Jewish people from annihilation.

Haman’s plan to execute all the Jews of the Persian Empire was spawned by his anger at a single Jew who acted differently from other citizens, one who would not bow to him. Haman’s ability to project his rage from one person onto their entire ethnic or cultural group exemplifies the very root of racism. Haman’s excessive response provides us with a mirror to our own biases and the dangers they create. How frequently do we see someone who looks different or does different things from us and make judgments about their entire ethnicity?

Right now, we are confronted with a new reason why so many people all over the world are wearing masks. These masks are not about hiding one’s identity, but rather protecting themselves from others. Our fear of the Covid-19 Coronavirus is quite valid, so much of this new threat is unknown and we are left unsure about how to best protect ourselves. Yet incredibly, long before the bulk of Australians have donned masks, many chose to protect themselves by excluding others. The mistrust of Australians and visitors of Asian origin has been a major feature of this health crisis. Icons of Asian dining have closed down and reports of discrimination and racism have grown. For some, the current climate is scary for more than just the obvious reasons.

So what does our Jewish heritage and the Purim story have to teach us about how we respond to Covid-19? Perhaps our Jewish understanding of being an outsider and looking a little different gives us a valuable sense of empathy. From Queen Ester we know what it is like to have to hide your identity to attain equal treatment. From Haman we understand how quickly people unfairly perceive a threat simply from the way somebody looks. As we don our masks for Purim, let’s heed the lesson of the megillah, and treat others with the same dignity we all deserve.

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