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Purim, Esther, and Bella Abzug: Wearing Costumes and Choosing Roles - Lesson Plan for Families

This lesson plan is part of a larger Go & Learn guide entitled “Queen Esther and Bella Abzug: Costumes, leadership, and identity.”

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Advance Preparation

Pre-assign two adults to act out the story of how Bella Abzug began to wear hats. Be sure to have the Bella Abzug character dress in clothing for the role as a 1940s office woman—in a knee length skirt and blouse or suit, if she can. Also she should bring in a hat and gloves.

Tell parents to bring in clothing for dressing up as the varied roles they play in life, such as: business professional, athletic coach, musician, stay-at-home parent, etc. Also, they should bring in hats and other clothes for their children (and possibly other children) to dress up in. These could be costumes or simply clothes that different family members usually wear.

Bring in extra hats or accessories, so people can experiment with how hats can change their personas.

Review the Purim Story

Collectively tell the biblical story of Esther—going around the room, with each person (both kids and adults) adding a sentence at a time. The leader can fill in details during the telling or afterwards retell the story, adding in pieces the group has forgotten. Make sure everyone knows it is okay to pass on their turn and explain that you are retelling the story so everyone will have it fresh in their minds. You may also choose to read a picture book, or use these excerpts from the Scroll of Esther (megillah, in Hebrew) as a guide.

Ask the group the following questions:

  • Who was Vashti? What happened to her and why? Was her punishment just?
  • How did Esther become the new queen?
  • Why did she hide her identity as a Jew?
  • What risk did Esther take in order to save the Jews?
  • Why did Esther ask that all the Jews in Shushan join her in fasting for three days and three nights before she went before the king?
  • What role did Mordechai play in helping and advising Esther?
  • Who is your favorite character in the story and why? Who is your role model?

Getting to Know Bella Abzug

Explain that Bella Abzug and the biblical Esther were both important Jewish women leaders who stood up for their people in different ways. Using the introductory essay for this Go & Learn guide as background, talk about the different roles Esther and Bella Abzug played.

Share a brief biography of Bella Abzug with the group. You can read her biography from JWA's Women of Valor exhibit or you can summarize it.

Have the pre-assigned parents act out the first scene of the story of how Bella began to wear hats. In this scene, Bella Abzug, as a young lawyer, is mistaken for a secretary.

After the scene, ask everyone why Abzug is not being accepted as a lawyer, and whether they have any suggestions for what she could do in order to be taken seriously. Ask if they think her clothing makes a difference to what role she is expected to play.

Now, have the parents act out the second scene, with Abzug wearing a hat and gloves and being immediately accepted as a professional. Ask the audience what made the difference and why. Ask people to think about the differences between how women dress today and how they dressed when this story took place? Do women still have to dress in a particular way so they are taken seriously?

Optional activity: The parents can act out the suggestions that people made about other ways Bella Abzug could have been taken seriously.

Roles Fashion Show

You can do this is instead of a regular Purim costume parade.

Have everyone get changed into the dress-up costumes they brought in (or using the extra hats and accessories that have been brought in) to create a persona they enjoy being or pretending to be. Then invite people up, one by one, to walk across the front of the room or the stage while people try to guess what they are dressed as. People can come up more than once, but they can’t have a second turn until everyone has had a first turn. Before each person steps down, invite them to respond to the group about who or what they are actually dressed as, and how they feel about the group’s guesses about them. Encourage people to try on different hats so they can see if simply wearing a hat changes how they appear or feel.

Closing Discussion

If time permits after the fashion show, have a group discussion about the relationship between clothing, roles, and identity. Ask the young people how they decide what to wear every morning, and what clothing to choose in a store. Are there brands or styles that “everyone else” is wearing which they feel they must own and wear? Where do these styles come from? What happens when they wear clothing that is different from what everyone else is wearing? Invite adults to share stories of the role clothing has played in their lives, and those of their parents. Ask the young people to reflect upon how their experiences are similar to or different from those of their parents.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Purim, Esther, and Bella Abzug: Wearing Costumes and Choosing Roles - Lesson Plan for Families." (Viewed on August 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/teach/golearn/feb07/family>.

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