Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Purim is a time for masks. We cover our faces and change our appearance in order to look like someone we are not, just as the events in the story of Purim were not what they seemed to be. But costumes and masks aren’t only for Purim. They are a universal, everyday phenomenon. How many of us are willing to “show our face,” to bare our true, innermost selves to the world at large?

The Hebrew word for face is panim. The face refers to an exterior façade, that which can be seen. Interestingly, panim is a plural configuration (singular is pahn), perhaps because each of us has many different faces. And like many words in Hebrew, it also has an opposite meaning. It shares the same source as the word pnim… inside, innermost or interior, as in kol kvuda bas melech penima – the honor of the king’s daughter is internal, within. But if faces display both inner and exterior worlds, how do we know what we are seeing? Things can get confusing.

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Not all “faces” are for public consumption. We choose which aspects of our personality and feelings we wish to convey and if we don’t wish to convey anything at all, we don a mask and hide from the eyes of the world. Is it any wonder then that the world is so difficult to decipher? (Maybe that’s the reason I’m often perplexed!)

Last week, for example, I walked into a large mobile-phone store thinking I would buy a simple set of earphones. I wandered around the store, trying to digest the unending supply of cellular, media and digital gadgets. I knew, of course, that digital communication is big business, but I didn’t realize how big. I couldn’t even identify half the items on sale and when I asked what they were for, I didn’t understand the answers.

But lo and behold! Despite the massive choice of cellphone accessories, there were no “simple” earphones for sale. There were hi-fi, low-fi, wi-fi and no-fi earphones with different types of fittings for all sizes and shapes of ears. There were right, left, plug-in, stick-on, hang-around or wireless earphones. There were earphones with buttons and switches and dials to mute or lower or heighten the sound. They came, of course, in a variety of colors. Prices ranged from the equivalent of two dollars up to two hundred(!). And, as I discovered too late, not all earphones work with all cellphones. I happen to have an old model of a relatively simple smartphone, which, apparently, was not smart enough for today’s advanced earphones.

I couldn’t find earphones to fit my phone, but as long as I was in the store, I thought I might as well pick up a new phone case. Mine was somewhat beat up after three years of use. A huge display of cellphone cases covered the walls of the store from floor to ceiling. There were cases made out of leather, metal, plastic, straw, silver and stone. They came in all the colors of the rainbow and in graphic designs of all persuasions. There were open covers, closed covers, simple or highly ornate covers. Somber, dazzling, sunny or funny. Gilded, streaked, sprinkled and speckled. Cartoon characters, celebrities and scenic delights were plastered across their shiny faces.

I was overwhelmed. It could take hours, if not days, to choose a cover from this mammoth collection. “Who needs all this?” I mumbled.

A young guy standing nearby turned to me and replied with gusto, “I do! You do! We all do! Everyone needs his or her own identity symbol. My phone cover is my flag, my sign, my image. It shows the world who I am!”

Stunned into silence by this startling declaration, I refrained from replying “No way! I am not my phone cover!” Who am I to tell him who he is or what he needs? I suppose it’s no worse than needing the right brand jeans or a T-shirt with the proper label. Evidently there are folks out there who express their true, personal, inner selves on the outer face of their cellphones.

But this started me thinking. Perhaps like cellphone cases, our “faces,” the exteriors we show the world, are really “covers.” Perhaps instead of displaying our inner selves, they hide us – like a mask – from the eyes of the world. One wouldn’t want to be seen with a battered, out-of-date, nerdy looking phone. So voila! Put on a dazzling cover and you’re ready to go! V’nahafoch hu. Cellphones are no longer merely cellphones. They turn into our shiny, new selves. They convey status. They make us Cool.

Why am I so impressed – or is it obsessed – with something as trivial as cellphone covers? I guess it’s because thinking of all the people, time, effort and money involved in the manufacture of these items; all the jobs, machinery, use of raw materials, pollution, marketing, advertising and brain-washing which goes into producing such inconsequential items, I am aghast. Cellphones are obviously one of the brilliant pinnacles of modern civilization, but cellphone covers?

But what do I know? Maybe this is part of a new wave of creative, artistic expression. Once upon a time they painted with oil on canvas. Today they put digital pictures on plastic. I suppose it’s no worse than other forms of artistic expression.

Come to think of it, I just had an idea. Instead of just wearing a mask, maybe this year I’ll dress up on Purim as a cellphone with a really whacky cover. I can always tell people it’s an expression of my true inner self!

P.S. I forgot to mention. Despite the hundreds of cellphone cases on sale, believe it or not, the store did not have a single one that fit the model of my not-so-smart, outdated smartphone. One of these days I’m going to give up and buy a new phone. Otherwise I shall be forever stuck with a battered, beaten-up, nerdy looking cover and what will the world think of me then?

Purim Sameach and Happy Communicating!

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Yaffa Ganz is the award-winning author of over forty titles for Jewish kids, three books on contemporary Jewish living, and “Wheat, Wine & Honey – Poetry by Yaffa Ganz” (available on Amazon).
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