US Jewish groups have urged those celebrating Purim to “exercise sensitivity” this year, calling on observers to avoid blackface and costumes that might stereotype minority groups.
The carnival-like Purim holiday is a unique holiday in the Jewish religious calendar, as Insider’s Gabbi Shaw explained.
It begins on Wednesday night and continues until Thursday night and is celebrated with parades and costume parties to commemorate the Jewish people’s deliverance from a plot to exterminate them in the ancient Persian empire 2,500 years ago, as told in the Book of Esther.
Last year, a small group of religious Jewish children in New Jersey sparked controversy when they wore blackface and shirts with “Black Lives Matter” written on the back.
This year’s guidance, issued by six New York area groups, some representing Orthodox Jewish communities, clarifies that a similar incident will not be tolerated.
“Do NOT use costumes that involve ‘blackface,'” said a letter published on Thursday.
“Throughout history, white actors would use blackface while wearing torn clothing to mimic and mock Black slaves,” the letter noted.
“This in part is why blackface is so painful to many in our community and our neighbors, especially those in the African American community,” it continued.
The letter also advises those celebrating Purim to choose costumes that do not stereotype minority groups.
“Keep in mind that our community would also be offended if we were to be stereotyped should anyone use antisemitic tropes in choosing their costumes during holidays like Halloween,” the letter explained.
Jewish people in the New York area have also been advised against participating in the “hanging of Haman,” the Jewish groups said.
Purim falls on the day Jews were saved from execution by the king’s viceroy Haman, according to Jewish texts. The king ordered that Haman be hanged from the gallows instead of the Jews, so the story goes.
In recognition of this, a little-observed custom sometimes sees observers parading fake gallows. The guidance notes that the imagery is reminiscent of the nooses and hanging dolls used by the KKK and other racist groups.
“Our fellow community members and neighbors often do not know Haman’s history and it’s extremely painful and insensitive in their view,” the letter said.
It urges people to “explain the severity of these practices” to their children, and notes the harm “even one such incident” could generate.
The groups sent the letter in both English and Yiddish to local Jewish media outlets, hoping that it would garner the attention of local communities, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.
It was signed by the United Jewish organizations, Agudath Israel of America, The Vaad, ADL, BPJCC, Oizrim, and BoroPark24.