SJS launches Petition Asking Community To Not Offend Cultures W/ Purim Costumes

Dov Hikind Blackface HeadAs Purim approaches and millions of Jews across the United States are preparing to dress up for the holiday, the Board of Directors of the Shivtei Jeshurun Society for the Advancement of Jewish Racial & Ethnic Diversity (SJS) launched a petition would  to remind members of the Jewish community that they should wear costumes, not cultures. “We formally condemn the use of black-face, yellow-face, brown-face, and all its iterations and incarnations.,” the group writes.

Pledge to celebrate #PurimNotPrejudice

“This year, SJS asks every Jew to approach Purim with joy and sensitivity and to spread the message to friends, family, and anyone else in the community. We think our catchphrase captures it: Wear Costumes, not Cultures. Practice Religion, not Racism. Celebrate Purim, not Prejudice,” said SJS founder and author/blogger MaNishtana.

Last year, Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind drew worldwide public backlash against him after a photo of him at a Purim Party, in costume, was posted online.

Hikind later apologized for wearing blackface and an Afro wig at his Purim party but in the same breath doubled down on criticism of his costume as “political correctness to the absurd.”

“If I was doing it all over again? I would look at, you know, additional alternatives,” he said on Zev Brenner’s radio program, “because my real objective is — it’s not about being a black person or Indian, or maybe I would be a gay person . . . by the way, would that be okay, Zev? If I played a gay person next year?”

The Assemblyman was criticized by all of his Democratic colleagues, even the local Jewish politicians.

“We ask every member of the Jewish community to join the SJS in rejecting the use of racist and offensive costumes to celebrate a holiday. We task all Jews to think through their choice of costume, and educate individuals who wear racist, insensitive, and offensive outfits,” The Shivtei Jeshurun Society urges.

The petition is being spread on social media with the hashtag #PurimNotPrejudice.

Read the full petition below:

As Purim approaches, millions of Jews across the United States are preparing to dress up for the holiday. Many draw inspiration from biblical sources, others from historical texts, and still others from current events and figures. In anticipation of the holiday, the Board of Directors of the Shivtei Jeshurun Society for the Advancement of Jewish Racial & Ethnic Diversity (SJS) would like to remind members of the Jewish community that they should wear costumes, not cultures. We formally condemn the use of black-face, yellow-face, brown-face, and all its iterations and incarnations.

“This year, SJS asks every Jew to approach Purim with joy and sensitivity and to spread the message to friends, family, and anyone else in the community. We think our catchphrase captures it: Wear Costumes, not Cultures. Practice Religion, not Racism. Celebrate Purim, not Prejudice,” said SJS founder and author/blogger MaNishtana.

The premise is simple: Despite the “harmless” intent of the costume-wearer, no Jew anywhere would tolerate a celebration of Halloween which included the wearing of a costume depicting Shylock – the character used by the Nazis for anti-Semitic propaganda, and for the past four centuries the image used to depict Jews as cruel, lecherous, and avaricious. Similarly, no Jew should tolerate individuals dressing like a “Mexican”, “Geisha girl”, or “thug”, or as a Black person by putting on black-face makeup. Dressing up as a stereotypical cultural character is problematic because it holds the same weighted history of dehumanization as the figure of Shylock. These costumes reduce the depictions of different cultures down to a collection of stereotypes and reinforce stereotypical assumptions. A person’s cultural background is much richer than any of these hurtful and one-dimensional costumes can express. Like the “Costumes, Not Cultures” movement surrounding Halloween, it is time to apply the same level of sensitivity to Purim. The Jewish population is as racially and ethnically diverse as the non-Jewish population, and it is imperative that the Jewish community rejects any practice that alienates or offends any member of its community or any other community.

For this reason, and because it is the right thing to do, we ask every member of the Jewish community to join the SJS in rejecting the use of racist and offensive costumes to “celebrate” a holiday. We task all Jews to think through their choice of costume, and educate individuals who wear racist, insensitive, and offensive outfits.

Help SJS spread the message by signing this petition, and talking about this initiative in Social Media, using the hashtag #PurimNotPrejudice.

This year, for Purim, wear costumes, not cultures. Practice religion, not racism. Celebrate Purim, not prejudice.

For more information, email the Shivtei Jeshurun Society at info@SJSociety.org, or call us at 347.946.1780.

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The Shivtei Jeshurun Society for the Advancement of Jewish Racial & Ethnic Diversity (SJS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting awareness of and equality for Jews whose ethnic and/or racial heritage partially or wholly extends beyond the spectrum of Ashkenazi European Jewry. Its mission is to provide and promote positive and accurate media representation of Jewish ethnic and racial diversity.

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