What’s in a name

It should come as no surprise that I’d be into Purim in a big way. After all, my parents, having blessed me at birth with the fusty name of Marla Estelle, also bestowed upon me the incredibly unoriginal Hebrew moniker, Malka Esther.


The author has had a bad romance with her Hebrew name from the start.

Yes, as in Queen Esther, heroine of the Purim story. So let’s just say I’m embracing my namesake’s holiday.

Being Malka Esther was always a bit of a drag at Hebrew school. That ungainly “lk” sound and the way it stick to the back of the throat like peanut better just doesn’t make a pretty noise, like Shoshana, Leah or even Chava. The Hebrew school kids not only made fun of my curly hair, but also picked on me for my dorky name. Every time the teacher would call on me, “Malka,” there would be someone making a gulping noise and giggling behind me. Never mind that I actually liked Hebrew school and had probably been waving my hand wildly to answer the question. Okay, so my name wasn’t the only thing dorky about me.

And yes, there was that one time in kindergarten, when Peter Fox did pick me to be Queen Esther to his King Ahashveros, but that was probably the last time my name got me anywhere. And I haven’t been able to find Peter Fox on Facebook, anyway.

Face it, she may be the heroine of the story, but Queen Esther is problematic at best. I mean she’s got this not-quite-clear relationship with her bachelor uncle who encourages her to enter a beauty contest so that she can be selected as the next queen of Persia. What’s that all about? Then she just hangs out eating veggie burgers the rest of the story, because she’s afraid to eat the palace food in case it’s treif. In the end, she throws a big bash for the king — who probably ranks as the number one all-time frat-boy party animal in history — and reveals that she’s Jewish and that the evil king’s vizier, Haman is out to kill her and her people.

Were supposed to love Esther. And all the little girls want to dress up as Esther. But as some point, it was Vashti, the vanquished queen whom Ahashveros ditches, who became so very appealing to the rebellious child in me. When Ahashveros asks Vashti to dance naked at a party she gives him a WTF look and says, “No.”

I mean, how am I supposed to not respect that?

She’s got chutzpah. Of course she also ends up not-queen, but then we all have a way of entering the realm of unintended consequences.

The Purim story gives us a beauty queen and a headstrong woman. It’s a classic division for women, one compliant, the other not. You don’t have to know me for very long to figure out which one I’d identify with and it’s definitely not the one I’m named for.

But whatever. Purim really is my favorite holiday. What’s not to like? You get to dress in something ludicrous, sing loudly, smack noisemakers around and generally exhibit behavior usually reserved for unruly children. There’s’ sanctioned drinking, and giving out food packages, or mishloach manot, to your friends, which I can turn into a total fetish. There’s even a charitable component! Just the thought of what I’m going to dress as can preoccupy me for weeks. This year my costume was chosen for me when I announced to my kids that I thought I’d go as Lady Gaga.“But mom, she’s a sexual freak.”

I was sold. Then at kiddush a few weeks later, my friends were occupying themselves with the question: What’s she going to wear for Purim? They all figured it was obvious I was coming as the woman responsible for “Poker Face.” Done deal.

Purim is irreverent, noisy, and right there in the calendar when you need it. As the days are just beginning to lengthen, but we’re still mired in some of the glummest, coldest weather of the year, it seems wise beyond words to schedule a holiday of unbridled merriment and mirth. It’s practically a basic need being met, and clearly it’s one that occurs across cultures.

Did I hear anyone say, “Mardi Gras?”

At Purim they say that you’re to get so drunk that you cannot tell the name of Mordechai, the hero, from that of Haman, the villain. While I don’t recommend that you put quite that much alcohol into your body, I’d say figure out some way to have a good time and than, as the song says, “get down, got out and just lose it all.”

As for me, I’ll be reading the Megillah at synagogue dressed as Lady Gaga, handing out homemade hamentashen and thinking maybe my parents knew what they were doing when they named me after Queen Esther.