Purim is just a few days away, but it’s still Hanukkah in my household. Just this past Monday morning, my child insisted on going to pre-K dressed as a “Spiderman Maccabee” after his 800th time watching the now-famous Maccabeats video. (Note: in case you were curious, this involves dressing all in red, wearing tzitzit, and brandishing a tin-foil shield).
My husband is an ardent Zionist as well as a student of ancient Judiasm, which means that my son was taught quite early that the Maccabees were brave warriors, fighting the Greeks for the right to practice Judaism freely. So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that he identifies the Maccabees with superheroes.
I’m pleased that he’s taken these strong, principled Jews as role models. What gives me pause, however, is his willingness to jump into an imaginary world filled with warfare. His Maccabees fight Greeks, his Spiderman fights Electro. All along I wonder, does he have any idea what it really means to fight a war?
Anyone who’s spent time in a preschool knows that you can’t keep little boys from play fighting. You can take away all the toy guns, strip them of all violent stimuli, and they’ll still point their fingers at each other and shoot. He also has some basic awareness of mortality, and asks us questions about death from time to time that just break my heart. But I don’t think he’s put the two together.
That’s what disturbs–and relieves–me.
On the one hand, I don’t want him to take warfare and battle lightly, to make it the subject of play. War is ugly, the worst of humanity and the adult world, and it has no place in the frivolity of childhood.
On the other hand, I suspect he really doesn’t understand what he’s saying. And that’s a good thing. Even at the ripe-old age of 33, the news from around the world often makes me want to stick my head in the sand. If he were to fully understand the persistence of evil and the inevitability of war at age 4, how could he bear it?
As we approach Purim–a holiday whose narrative is marked by the threat of genocide followed by a defensive massacre—these questions come into greater relief. I want my son to accept these stories as a real part of his history. I want him to take them to heart. But I don’t want him to think too hard about why Haman wanted the Jews dead. Or the things they had to do to fight back. There’s plenty of time for that.
Need a Purim costume? Check out Mayim Bialik’s tips for doing Purim on the cheap.