The clarity to see inner beauty – my story of Purim

33 Mom & Dad at the Purim festival

I wanted to be Queen Esther. She was the real hero in the Purim play.

Purim is the Feast of Lots, commemorating the Jews being saved once again from extinction. There were never enough parts for girls, and I was cast as Esther’s uncle, Mordechai. I wore a black mustache and cape, which almost made up for not being the queen.

I instinctively loved Queen Esther, whose name is derived from the Hebrew saiter, meaning concealment. The story goes that she saw through to her hidden role to save her people. Her other name—Hadassah—references the clarity of her eyes to see beyond surface realities to inner beauty.

Esther belonged to no one. Her father died before her birth, her mother in childbirth. Loneliness nurtured her, preparing her for her purpose and making her a master at breaking through the illusory trappings of the physical world.

The Purim carnival featured homemade games. Knocking over milk bottles, bursting balloons with darts, throwing ping-pong balls into fishbowls to win a goldfish.

My mother and father were always the “Pic-a-Pocket Lady” and “Pic-a-Pocket Man” at the carnival. My mother sewed the costumes on her brown Singer sewing machine. Sliding material under the needle, she turned the fabric around and around while she worked the foot pedal, pulling out the straight pins as she sewed, holding them between her lips.

Her outfit had a swingy pink and blue flowered skirt covered with pockets. A poofy yellow silk flower in her blouse “just for fun.” Big gold hoop earrings to “fill my gypsy spirit.”

My father wore a straw hat from New Year’s Eve. His vest and pants had about fifty pockets sewn on them. He wore a tray over his shoulders “like a cigarette girl” with extra prizes to refill the pockets.

“Stay with your big sister,” my mother told me before the carnival started. “Come get me if you need me.”

I didn’t have to ask what she meant.

Later, she saw us both sitting in a corner and came to check on us. The toys in her pockets clacked as she sat down.

“The kids pushed me away from that bowling game. They said they are afraid they’ll catch whatever made me look like this,” Linda told her.

I nodded yes when my mother looked over at me. She got up and walked away, coming back in a few minutes and telling us to go back to the game. Linda and I looked at each other, agreeing silently to trust our mother and try again. Sure enough, all those kids had changed their attitude. I learned later that my mother had gone over and explained that Linda was not contagious, it was only scars from burns that they saw, and she elicited the support of the woman running the game.

Queen Esther could see beyond the facade of reality and make others see it, too.


Excerpted from Replacement Child – a memoir.

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