• Marilyn Saltzman

Of Masks and Wo/men

On the Jewish holiday of Purim, we dress up in masks and costumes, eat, drink and celebrate our survival.

Ironically, one of the last public events I attended before the stay-at-home order was the Purim play at Beth Evergreen. I wore a long flowing robe, though no mask, as one of the 12 Jewish jurors contemplating the guilt of Haman, who wanted to execute all the Jews in Persia.

Little did I know that I would soon be donning a mask every time I left the house. To be honest, I hate wearing a mask. It feels claustrophobic. It fogs up my glasses. It interferes with clarity of speech. People can’t see my smile. And yet a mask might save my life or the life of another. So I’ll keep wearing it.

If those I meet on the trail are wearing a mask, I smile though they can’t see it, and nod my head in thanks. I am grateful that they are protecting themselves and me. If those I meet are not wearing masks, I move away and turn my back. I can’t help but think, “Is this the person who might unwittingly expose me to COVID?” I hope they are not making a political statement, being uncaring or cavalier. I’d like to judge on the side of merit: Maybe they left their mask home; maybe they can’t afford one; or maybe they believe it’s safe not to wear a mask when outdoors.

Before COVID, when did people wear masks? I can think of a few examples other than bank robbery: Purim, Halloween, Mardi Gras. And to what purpose? Are masks worn to protect our identities so we can act in ways that we wouldn’t normally? To create a spirit of fun and freedom?

In researching Purim and masks, I came across this thought-provoking quote by author Yisroel Juskowitz, “In life so often we wear masks, afraid to show our true spiritual selves.”*

His quote caused me to contemplate the invisible masks that I wear every day. Masks to hide my true feelings, thoughts and opinions. Masks to protect myself from the judgment of others. Masks to shield a fragile ego and prevent the re-opening of childhood wounds.

So I challenge myself: How in this time of wearing a protective face mask can I find a way to trust enough to peel back the unseen masks that hide my true self? While social distancing, perhaps I can learn to let the light shine through and become more emotionally open. Unmasking while masking.

*Yisroel Juskowitz, artist, author, musician, speaker, “Purim: Masks and Revelations,”, May 4, 2020

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