MSN and MKE Join Forces Again!

(Leslie is out of town, Steve Olson is guest blogger.  Photos by Eve-Lynn Siegel)

As the Milwaukee and Madison groups met together for a joint session, Professor Steven Nadler shared some of the insights he gained while researching his book Rembrandt’s Jews .

Because many Portuguese Jews successfully settled in Amsterdam after fleeing the Inquisition, they provided a unique model of interaction with a 17th Century Calvinist culture.

The two communities lived in close proximity, and Jews invited curious Dutch to observe services at their magnificent Sephardic synagogue. Some Dutch artists began to normalize Jews in visual terms (they look just like us!) rather than depicting them as anti-Semitic stereotypes, as was common in European culture.

Rembrandt was a neighbor of important Amsterdam Jews and seems to have had an especially close relationship with Menasseh ben Israel, one of its chief rabbis. In a well-known painting, “Belshazzar’s Feast,” Rembrandt pictured the puzzling and mysterious Aramaic “writing on the wall” accurately in a form which was very likely given to him by the rabbi. (The writing was vertical and moved right to left.)

The dual Insider/Outsider status of Jews in Amsterdam provoked a good deal of discussion and many questions.

The evening proved to be a session rich in knowledge and shared ideas.

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The Book & The Cover: Concealment & Revelation

There is a recurring motif in the Torah in which people reveal and then conceal – or first conceal and then reveal. So the peekaboo aspects of the telling of the Purim story are really only an echo of themes we have heard a million times (Jacob/Esau, Jacob/Issac).

We hide from each other.  We hide from HaShem.  HaShem hides from us, only revealing one name, then another…the real names are concealed from us.

We are not allowed to know.

So we spend our lives playing hide and seek with our loved ones, with our communities and with ourselves.   The holiday of Purim — with its costumes and masks…may tell us more about revealing/revelation in its hiddenness.

Purim happens in the late winter/early Spring, depending on the year.   It is the time when the hiddenness of life only begins to be revealed…only a little.  Even before we are aware that the sap in the trees is running, the bees are already gather pollen from the maples.    The life force, previously hidden, meekly shows its lovely face.

Purim is the beginning of the revealing.   Purim is the story which demands the end to the concealment.

Even if we begin by looking at the names we fine that the heroine “Esther” may share her name origins with “Hastir” which translates from the Hebrew to mean “Conceal”….and the story that we tell is told from the scroll called “Megillah” — but “Megalah” translates to “reveal”or “discover”.

We all wear masks in our lives…we play roles. We get to decide to whom we reveal our true selves and in the right circumstances.

What people wear, in fact, either reveals who they are or hides who they are. A black leather jacket can show someone’s ‘rocker’ personality or it can hide someone’s sensitivity. The ancient priests in the old temple wore specific robes – described very specifically in the Torah – which were designed to magnify their role as Kohanites.

In the story of Purim – Esther and Mordechai were clearly connected. Does she hide her identity as a Jew deliberately or is she blissfully unaware of who she really is until circumstances drove Mordechai’s motivation to finally tell her. Are we, in fact, sometimes blissfully unaware of who we really are until circumstances require that we rise to the occasion – on the occasion that the King raises his scepter.

No, that’s too much information.

We reserve the right to the privacy of our real selves. We reserve the right to reveal who we are…but be warned…sometimes life reveals who you are before you are ready.

Concealment is not forever.