(photo credit Shari’s Berries)
Want the secret recipe to the perfect global Jewish cocktails? Read on. After all, the story of Purim is, in part, a story about “passing” — hiding your identity because it is disadvantageous or even deadly to be who you really are. Esther’s dilemma has always struck me on a very personal level; growing up in an upwardly-mobile black family in the American South, my grandmother used to hear stories about cousins, uncles, or aunts who just vanished one day. It was understood that, because of their light skin, they’d simply chosen to “pass” as white for the rest of their lives, assuming a different racial identity because their own felt like a dead end or even a death sentence. Yet they always lived in fear, because they could be suddenly recognized at any time, and the consequences of being found out were catastrophic.
Queen Esther lives in that same kind of fear while Haman rises to power. She’s justifiably afraid to reveal her Jewish identity to Ahasuerus and the world, given that a death sentence is hanging over her entire community; she’s even reluctant when her beloved older cousin Mordechai comes to ask for help. It’s frightening to reveal our true selves when we don’t feel safe to be who we really are.
Purim is also a story about a series of banquets, beginning with Queen Vashti’s downfall. Interestingly, the way Esther chooses to “out” herself to Ahasuerus is to give two such feasts for Haman and the king. Every year, I (somewhat greedily) wonder about the specifics. What was served, besides the likely copious amounts of wine Ahasuerus would have expected? Every move Esther makes, from the moment she decides to help the Jewish people until she and Mordechai are writing their own decrees, is meticulously planned. Surely, the meals would have been, too. I like to imagine that, perhaps, Esther’s first feast was a scrupulously traditional Persian meal, designed to please Ahasuerus while feeling out his attachment to Haman. Then, for the grand finale, Esther’s final banquet with Haman might feature proudly Jewish flavors, helping her to build courage for the dramatic moment where she claimed her heritage and stopped “passing” for good.