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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Purim masks highlight story of Esther

By Carla Hinton
Religion Editor

TULSA — A mask depicting the beauty of the biblical Queen Esther and a vivid red mask resembling a stoplight are displayed side by side at the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art.

The variety is what leaders at the Tulsa museum had desired. It shows awareness of the lesser-known Jewish festival, Purim, is growing among Tulsa school students, due to the museum's second annual Purim Mask Invitational.

Purim is the Jewish holiday commemorating the Persian Jews' victory over oppression, as chronicled in the Book of Esther. The holiday began at sundown Thursday and concluded at sundown Friday.

Though the holiday is over, many of the colorful masks will be exhibited through April 27 at the museum, 2021 E 71st St., Tulsa. A reception for the winning artists is set for 2 p.m. April 13.

Museum curator Karen York said the mask contest was opened last year to students at Tulsa area Jewish schools such as Temple Israel School, B'nai Emunah School, Chabad House and Heritage Academy, a school on the same campus as the museum.

She said about 90 masks were submitted then. This year the contest was broadened to include students in the Tulsa Public School system and 221 masks were submitted. York said Tulsa Public Schools submitting entries included Owen Elementary, Edison Preparatory Middle School and High School, Project 12, Memorial and Central high schools.

She said the museum hopes to include the Jenks and Union area schools next year, as well as Tulsa area universities.

Arthur M. Feldman, museum executive director, said he wants to convey the message that there are many issues that unify the Jewish and non-Jewish community.

He said the mask contest is another way to get Jewish and non-Jewish students alike to discuss the story of Queen Esther and the lessons everyone can learn from it.

"Purim, which is the original beauty pageant, I guess in the Bible, is about the story of Queen Esther,” Feldman said.

As chronicled in the Book of Esther, the Persian king chooses Esther from among a bevy of women to be his queen. At her cousin's recommendation, she hides her Jewish identity, but decides to disclose it later when evil leader Haman plots to destroy all Jews in the kingdom.

"In the story, she masks her identity as a Jewess and only reveals herself in time, in essence, to save her people. That is where we get the concept of masking,” Feldman said. He said the name of God is not in the Book of Esther, symbolizing that God is present though his name is hidden.

Feldman said many people think of masks in relationship to Mardi Gras or Halloween. Purim introduces the concept of masks in a different way.

Pointing to a McDonald's french fry-theme mask and a football-theme mask, Feldman smiled.

"The vitality of what you see is ready-made masks and original masks,” he said.

"I think they did a great job. There's a lot of whimsy, there's a lot of fun.”

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