What little girl doesn’t want to wear a Queen Esther costume for Purim? She’s the paragon of our every dream – the beauty of all Jewish beauties, the savior of the Jewish people, the dutiful niece of great Mordechai …
I remember feeling slightly competitive with the other little girls in my shul when they showed up in Esther costumes, as well. The nerve! I’m the daughter of the President of the Board. Doesn’t she know better?!?! In defense, I adopted Vashti as my Purim alter ego, and imagined her as an enlightened feminist with too much dignity to put up with her dopey king. There was never any competition there in the costume category.
Secretly, though, I’ve never given up my admiration for Esther. So I’m particular delighted that she’s been recast as a Jewish superhero in the wake of recent fanfare over the role of Jews in the comic book industry.
It all started with Arie Kaplan‘s book, From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books. Published in 2008, his book inspired the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles to open ZAP! POW! BAM!, an exhibit documenting “the genesis of cultural icons such as Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, and Wonder Woman.” Wonder who was behind these characters? Yup, Yids.
Last year, we brought our synagogue’s youth group to the above exhibit, and were stunned to see artwork (published well before the United States’ intervention in WWII) of Captain America and other comic book heroes battling Hitler and other Nazi villains. Turns out these poor Jewish kids growing up on the East side of Manhattan in the 30s and 40s found their creative outlet in the comics, and their depiction of Jews as superheroes shaped an entire generation.
Within both Jewish tradition and comic books, there comes a pivotal moment when every hero must step into his/her destiny and take charge of his/her obligation to help those in need. However, during these moments of change and transition, a hero oftentimes has to negotiate for the opportunity to save the day! Once these characters openly convey their heroic intentions, they find the courage to step into swift action when the time calls. For example … in Megillat Esther, Queen Esther comes forward with the admission of her Jewish identity to the King. Esther’s confession, which comes just at the right moment, saves the entire Jewish nation from the perilous schemes of Haman. In the world of comic books, we find that superheroes such as Spiderman, Superman, and Batman initially run away from their heroic duties. However, after they complete honest conversations with loved ones and supporters (like Esther!), each character eventually acknowledges that they must utilize their powers for tikkun olam (repair of the world).
Maybe next year I’ll wear an Esther costume … with some Wonder Woman power cuffs for added measure.