Early Zionists, Purim, and Cultural Appropriation
As Purim rolls around Jews worldwide begin to pick out their costumes for the day long festival.
Of course, like every other costume wearing occasion, we can expect the normal communal conversation over what constitutes a reasonable costume and what oversteps the line.
We can probably all agree that an Anne Frank costume, as a company was selling on Amazon last Halloween, is explicitly wrong. What we may not agree on however, is the gray area in between. Is dressing up as a Hasidic guy wrong if you are not Jewish? What about if you are Jewish but not Hasidic? What about dressing up like a Priest or Imam for Purim?
These questions were at the heart of an article I wrote last year about Halloween and the topic of cultural appropriation (you can find the full article here). In that article I defended non-Jews who dressed up as Hasidim by arguing the following:
Dressing up as a Hasid is not poking fun at any one event or series of events in
history; it is simply dressing up as another culture on a day where the entire point is for people go out and dress up as identities and characters who are different from their normal selves. Of course, there will always be those who are upset by the Hasidic costume…(but) there is a very real risk when everything starts to be labeled as offensive.
Now some of you may agree with this assessment while others may not. That actually isn’t the point of this article. Rather, I wanted to highlight a case in which a group of Jews specifically disagreed with my assessment. A case which occurred 99 years ago and is extremely revealing when it comes to the early Jewish community in Palestine.
I have already written plenty on the topic of early Zionists and their disposition towards the local Arabs. Mainly about how the idea that the early immigrants to Israel had malicious or murderous intent towards the Palestinians is mostly a fiction - invented by anti-Zionist advocates to cast a shadow on the Zionist movement. Now this does not mean that early Zionists are blame-free in terms of the basis for the 100+ year conflict, but claims of premeditated or attempting Palestinian ethnic cleansing are blatantly false.
And, in this light, as I saw an image circulating on social media this past week, I felt obliged to publicize it as much as possible.
In 1920 as the Jewish community in Tel Aviv was preparing for Purim, posters appeared all over the city urging residents from refraining from dressing up as Christians or Muslims during the Jewish day of jest.
Let that sink in. Jews 99 years ago were worried about insulting their Palestinian (Christian and Muslim) neighbors during a Jewish holiday where jokes and insults are ubiquitous.
In seeing these posters there are a couple of key reflections:
Purim remembers a day where Jews triumphed over their mortal enemy. During the reading of the Megillah, Jews will specifically boo whenever Haman is mentioned in addition to poking fun at him in every way possible (Hamantaschen, dressing up as him, rejoicing when his sons are hung, etc.). If the early Zionists viewed the local Arabs as their enemy, Purim would be a day where they would specifically want to go out of their way to provoke them.
Second, it is clear that the idea of political correctness is not a new idea as we see Jews 99 years ago worrying about such.
Finally, today in Israel there is undoubtedly much more animosity between Jews and Arabs than there was 99 years ago. This makes sense as there have been at least a dozen wars, not to even mention thousands of attacks on Israeli soil. However we should not forget the message of these posters. We should always strive for co-existence, attempting to eradicate animosity whenever we can.
I often fear that the early Zionists, with their prophetic vision of a cosmopolitan society would be absolutely shocked at the current state of affairs happening in Israel. With a growing extremist right-wing (see here for more), an increasingly despotic prime minister who routinely puts down the Arab population of Israel, and ever rising tensions between the Jews and Arabs - we must remember this lesson of the early Zionists now more than ever.
Moshe Daniel Levine is a regular contributor of blog postings on Jewish Values Online.
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