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Purim Gets Naughty

Women’s Purim costumes have gotten skimpier and sexier. I tried to buck the trend, but it didn’t go well.

Dana Kessler
February 20, 2013
(Original photos Shutterstock)
(Original photos Shutterstock)

In Tel Aviv, you don’t have to follow the Jewish calendar to know that Purim is coming up this weekend. All you have to do is venture outside, since this is the wonderful time of year when all the malls, markets, and main streets miraculously turn into sex shops selling naughty costumes, from sexy nurse to flirty she-devil, from Playboy bunny to S&M police officer, from Marilyn Monroe to ’80s Madonna—or plain old slutty-pirate, slutty-sailor, slutty-schoolgirl, or slutty-bride outfits, not to mention the even more to-the-point slutty-slut costume (it says “call girl” on the box).

Even though they typically dress as Dora the Explorer or Angry Birds rather than biblical characters, Israeli elementary-schoolchildren may remember that Purim is supposed to commemorate the deliverance of the Jewish people from genocide in the Persian Empire. But most secular Israeli adults don’t seem to care. In the weeks running up to the holiday, Israeli women buy form-hugging and more than slightly revealing costumes to wear to their annual Purim parties. Masquerading as some sort of stripper for Purim is not only the norm for non-Orthodox Israeli women aged 15 to 55; it’s almost mandatory—if only because it’s very difficult to find any other sort of costume for a grown woman in the shops. Even more traditional female costumes like princess, honeybee, or Little Red Riding Hood can only be found these days in their “naughty” version, incorporating a micro-mini or hot-pants, knee-high socks, and of course a sexy push-up bustier or corset. The more skin you show the better. Cutesy ears, whiskers, or a tail are considered a sexy bonus (therefore, seductive kittens or bunnies are especially popular). Peep-toe platform pumps are not included, but highly advisable.

And yet, I’ve been resistant to embracing the Jenna Jameson look. A few years ago I even tried to buck the slutty Purim trend entirely.

It didn’t go well.

Thanks to a healthy tendency for procrastination, my slightly confused sense of humor, and a bit of less-than-attractive miserliness, I informed my boyfriend that we were going to a Purim party dressed as settlers. When it comes to trifles like Purim costumes, he couldn’t care less and pretty much lets me do whatever I want. This time he actually thought it was a fairly good idea, probably mainly due to the fact that such costumes would be cheap and easy (pardon the pun) to put together. Visualizing ourselves as proud inhabitants of the occupied territories was easy enough, and so was finding (almost) everything we needed in our closet. Between me in my maxi-skirt, headscarf, and oversized green army parka, and my boyfriend in his baggy jeans, hiking sandals (footwear that is as reliable in hazardous situations as it is ugly), and an old plaid flannel shirt (stuffed in the back of the closet since the era of grunge), we were obviously not Brangelina. What we were, instead, was content. With our last-minute accessory purchases—a watermelon-patterned knitted kippah for him, a toy M-16 for me—we thought our costumes were hilarious, even a tad subversive.

We headed to the party, at some loft that belonged to a friend of a friend of a friend of someone with whom I once worked. It was one of those events where you don’t know more people than you do know, and you willingly commit yourself to a night of small talk with people who seem familiar but you don’t exactly remember from where.

This was not unusual for any soiree, all the more so for a Purim party, since all the guests were drunk, or getting there fast. Once a year it is considered a mitzvah to get smashed, and even the most committed atheist wouldn’t dare ignore the rabbinic saying that for Purim one should drink wine ad de-lo yada—“until one no longer knows.” The original idea might have been getting drunk until you don’t know the difference between the good Mordechai and the evil Haman, but not knowing the difference between the guy who works in the cubicle next to you and the one you briefly dated six years ago works, too. Obviously, the fact that everybody was in costume only contributed to the general confusion.

This is why at first it didn’t seem too strange that people came up and asked us rather suspiciously where we were from and how we got there. I didn’t even read too much into the fact that people actually believed us when we told them that we were Hanoch and Poriya from Har Gilo, and that Hanoch was the host’s cousin, twice removed. We kept up the charade for a while and quite enjoyed the compliment, regarding it as proof that our costumes were so good.

But at one point, I looked around me and saw that I was the only woman there who didn’t look like she just popped out of a cake. And then it dawned on me. The reason they thought we were settlers wasn’t that our costumes were so unbelievably believable. It was that nowadays, it is so utterly and completely inconceivable that a woman would actually deny herself this yearly free slutification-pass and dress like an observant woman in modest dress instead of a French maid with a lace garter on her exposed thigh, that I must have been the real deal.

The realization that there wasn’t room in Tel Aviv for a non-slutty Purim costume made me a little queasy (or maybe it was the punch). After that year’s party, I made a point of keeping my Purim festivities as innocent as possible.

Last year, I decided that the only Purim party I was going to attend was the one at my son’s preschool. And indeed, except for the occasional sugar rush, no one got too high and no one looked like they worked behind the viewing slot at a peep show. Surrounded by cute little lions and bees, Queen Esthers and Sponge-Bobs, all merrily munching on their hamantaschen while their obese-but-cuddly teacher, dressed in a cross between a Flamenco outfit and a muumuu, did her best to initiate a “Chag Purim” sing-along, I felt much better. For once, Purim felt like a fun family holiday and not like show-offy meat-market. That is, until my son’s preschool teacher cheerily said she was going to a Purim party that evening, smirking with glee as she informed us that she was going as a dominatrix.


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Dana Kessler has written for Maariv, Haaretz, Yediot Aharonot, and other Israeli publications. She is based in Tel Aviv.

Dana Kessler has written for Maariv, Haaretz, Yediot Aharonot, and other Israeli publications. She is based in Tel Aviv.