Authenticity of a Unicorn Costume

Posted on March 13, 2024
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Dr. Eliezer Jones

To speak candidly, my enthusiasm for donning costumes on Purim has never quite matched the spirit of the occasion. Yet, being the trooper I am, I’ve embraced the ritual with zeal, whether as a father or during my tenure in educational leadership. Picture this: a Head of School, dressed as a unicorn, gliding through school corridors on an electric skateboard, a Bluetooth speaker trailing on repeat the infectious song “Big Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows” in my wake. Or, as a parent, adorning a praying mantis costume complemented by a scarf resembling a Tallit (prayer shawl), fully immersing myself in the festivities despite my reservations. 

I know that my reservations set me apart at Megillah readings, where the air buzzes with the excitement of those joyfully wearing their favorite superhero outfits or embodying vibrant characters from the Purim narrative. One might wonder why the internal conflict, and if you know my personality even more so. 

The roots of costume-wearing on Purim are multifaceted, but let’s delve into one perspective that might illuminate my inner dissonance, even within the confines of a whimsical blow-up daddy shark costume.

The Talmud (Megilla 12a) recounts a dialogue between Rav Shimon Bar Yochai and his students about the reason for the seemingly deserved destructive fate of the Jewish people of that generation. The reason thought was the idol worship that the Jews appeared to be doing in bowing down to the king’s idols upon his command. However, Rav Shimon Bar Yochai shares that they did not worship the idols but pretended to only for appearances. So, too, Hashem “pretended” to be angry, as illustrated by the fact that only a threat of destruction was made, but in the end, the degree was annulled. 

Both the mortal idolatrous action of the Jews and the divine angry reaction of Hashem was a dance of disguises and intentions. The Jews were pretending to bow down to the idols with no intention of worship, and Hashem only pretended to destroy the Jewish people but had no intention of following through. In commemoration of this dance, we wear costumes and pretend to be someone/something we are not because both the Jews and Hashem “pretended” and masked the true intentions during that time. 

As a leader, authenticity is my cornerstone. I strive for transparency, or as I’ve learned to appreciate, ‘translucency,’ guided by principles that resonate with my learning and personal values. This quest for genuine leadership contrasts starkly with the essence of Purim costumes, symbolizing the very antithesis of authenticity, perhaps explaining my ambivalence. However, my discomfort turns out to in no way conflict with their wearing of costumes. In fact, that is the point.

The act of wearing a costume, even one as amusing as a life-size whoopee cushion that elicits laughter and the occasional unwelcomed body slam to see if it makes noise, is meant to be uncomfortable. It is to remind us that we are not meant to be anything but ourselves, and we should not hide our intentions when it comes to our Jewish identity and Jewish life. 

Purim commemorates our people’s deliverance under the cloak of divine concealment. It’s a celebration marked by exuberance and reflection on the victories of faith and identity. The tradition of costume-wearing, while not central to Purim’s simcha (joy), serves as a poignant reminder of our commitment to integrity and authenticity. 

As leaders, as members of the Jewish community, and fundamentally, as humans, our most significant celebration lies in recognizing our worth, staying true to our values, and embracing the joy and miracles of Purim with unfeigned hearts. In this truth, we find the deepest simcha (joy) and the essence of living the Purim miracle today.