March 15, 2011 | 10:30 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
The upcoming holiday of Purim and the story of Esther remind me to reveal myself and take off my mask. Many Jews celebrate Purim by dressing up and putting on a mask. The semester I lived in Jerusalem, was the first time I saw Purim could be as large a celebration as Halloween in Los Angeles. Wandering the streets of Tel Aviv, I was amazed at the number of Esthers, and Hamens that bumped into me in the celebrating crowds.
This holiday celebration includes being confused about good and evil. This shadow between good and evil and the line of intentions and when they become actions informs some of my travels and decisions. Sometimes we forget that at the corner where we work at the 7-11 is a man who is from Burma who speaks five languages and was a tour guide at Schwedagon Pagoda. We forget that this man in front of us has a history and wears a mask. Most of the people we interact with have some issue that plagues them and causes them to wear a mask and hide some part of themselves.
While I have often picked easy costumes for my work, such as coming to school as a Crayola crayon, in other areas of my life I have proceeded differently. Lately I have picked problematic travel destinations. Being in Sri Lanka this summer, so soon after the civil war ended caused me to really examine why I travel and where do I go. Being in an area with barbed wire around the beaches was nerve-wracking for me, but meeting people who were so happy to have peace and so welcoming to us as strangers to their country made it worth it.
Having recently watched, “Strangers No More”, the Academy Award-winning Documentary Short film about an amazing school, I am thinking about Tel Aviv, Strangers and Masks. In Billy Joel’s song, “The Stranger,” he sings, “We all have a face that we hide away forever, and we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone.” Travel allows us an opportunity to break from our every day routine and get outside ourselves.
When I travel, I hope to learn about the place, the people, the history, and the culture. Mostly I learn about myself. When my husband George and I were away for nearly a year, I cried in the beginning on almost every country. I even cried while snorkeling one time. I thought he would not notice. When we travel, our masks are off and we are the strangers. I frequently need help to find the bathroom, the bus, the hotel; everything is up in the air. Our daily routine no longer is there to support us.
I think of the young students showing up at Bialik-Rogozin School, having survived long walks in the desert, seeing parents killed and now managing their first day of school in a language they do not understand. The teachers seem so kind, compassionate and willing to help. The children of Darfur, South Africa and Eritrea who show up and move forward with hope and potential inspire me.
Adam Rosenthal writes in Koach:
“Each of us has emotions, thoughts and aspirations which we conceal on a daily basis. We hide these parts of ourselves by presenting others with a prepared image. We wear masks, denying others, and sometimes even ourselves, a glimpse of the vulnerable “stranger.”
I am thrilled that our travel blog will have this new home at the Jewish Journal but now I wonder if I can really show my travel stories and travel foibles and take off my mask to reveal what our travels are really like. I ask myself: will anyone care to read about our adventures?
Travel has given me the opportunity to evolve from a sidekick to a superhero. I have learned so much about my relationship and myself. I did not want to quit my job and travel for a year as a test of our relationship. I wanted to be engaged or I would not go but I did go and eventually we did get engaged.
The story of Purim remembers Esther who hid her Jewishness in the beginning and Haman who hid his anti-Semitism. In the end, both must reveal their true selves. This is what travel does for us. We must show up as who we really are without our masks.
Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai foil the plan of Haman, King Ahashuerus’s prime minster, to exterminate all the Jews of Persia. All secrets are revealed, all masks are off, and once again the Jewish Story continues. Join me March 24 to hear about the story of how the Jews have been welcomed and sent away for centuries in Morocco.
The Megillah Esther literally means “to reveal what is hidden,” join me as we wander and wonder about the history of the Jews, our planet and mainly ourselves.
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