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Musing for Meaning

Taking Off My Mask

Taking Off My Mask

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Who am I? It is that essential, quintessential, burning question that we always ask ourselves. Growing up, I always worried that I was a mere compilation of the things I liked in other people. I had one friend’s laugh, another one’s gestures, and yet another one’s way of speaking. My biggest fear was that I would one day be thrown a surprise party, and all my different friends from different parts of my life would be there, in the same room, and quickly my facade would come crashing down, with them all simultaneously realizing that I was really a farce who just mimicked those around me.

It is true that many of the ways I acted and things I did may have originated from what I saw and liked in others. But as the years passed, they became a part of me, so much so that they no longer really represent the original laugh or tone that I was trying to copy. I became a conglomeration of those that I knew, those that I liked, mixed with “me,” whatever that really was.

I wear even more masks now than I once thought I didI’ve noticed, though, as the years pass that I wear even more masks now than I once thought I did. I find myself acting one way when I am teaching and around my students, another way around my friends, another way with my children, and yet another way when I am the child, around my parents. And these parts of me can seem so different that I am not sure I would be recognized if I acted like I did with my parents to my students, or vice versa.

The more I feel I am getting to know the real me, the more I realize that only parts of me can be revealed, depending on who I am with and where I am.

But recently I was given the gift of a lifetime. To celebrate our big 40th birthdays (she just had hers, and mine is in September), my best friend from childhood took me on a vacation. “Vacation” is a word not generally in my vocabulary, as the workaholic that I am has a hard time just letting go and relaxing. But this time it wasn’t hard. It wasn’t hard, because it was just me and my friend (okay, and a few other thousand people on the same cruise, but they didn’t count!). I was not with my children, my students, my husband or my parents. I was not with anyone I knew, except for the one person who has known me from the time I was fifteen.

In the 25 years we have known each other, we have both changed tremendously. I went from her beach-loving, sunny Californian friend to a mother of four, wife to a chassidic rabbi and living in Philadelphia. From the outside, we have nothing in common. And yet we share a bond, a connection, a friendship that transcends all that separates us. We do not eat the same food, we do not celebrate the same holidays, and we do not live a similar life in any shape or form, but she knows me, I know her, and we love what we know.

Recently I was given the gift of a lifetimeMore than the beauty of the Bahamas, or the luxury of sitting in the sun and not doing anything, was having four days to just be me. I was with someone who didn’t know my day-to-day life, but knew the person under all I did, and how I really think and feel on the deepest of levels. Our dinners lasted for hours, as we spoke about our thoughts, feelings and fears. We would cry from laughter, reminiscing about what we did as teenagers, and then cry from pain as we shared our most challenging experiences. When I was with her, my mask was off. And being around the real me was something I realized I don’t get to do very often.

We are about to celebrate the holiday of Purim. Purim is all about hiddenness. It is also all about overcoming obstacles, and recognizing and celebrating miracles. On Purim we dress up, we put on masks, we act like someone we are not. That is part of the fun and joy of the holiday. But that is not the ultimate goal. The point is to recognize that while things are hidden, that is not the ideal state of things. The goal is to reveal the hidden—as is the meaning of the name of the scroll we read on Purim, Megillat Esther, as Esther is the concept of hester, meaning hidden, and megillat is from the word megaleh, which means “to reveal.” So it is all about revealing what is hidden.

There is no question that hiding parts of ourselves is not only healthy but vital, depending on the circumstances. We should conceal our personal feelings or ideas in certain situations. Our workplace is not the place to share our political leanings or concerns, any more than our children should be privy to private conversations we have with our spouses. We hide a part of ourselves in order to be able to reveal the part of ourselves that are appropriate and necessary for the one we are connecting to. But it doesn’t mean that those other parts aren’t there, or are not important.

Being around the real me was something I realized I don’t get to do very oftenJust like G‑d’s name is not mentioned once throughout the whole megillah scroll, we never question if He was present or there. If anything, we are taught that every time it mentions The King (hamelech), that is a reference to our Creator. He is there, whether or not we can see Him.

This Purim, let’s celebrate the miracles in our lives, both those that are revealed and, even more importantly, those that are concealed. And let’s remember that even though we all wear masks, it doesn’t mean we have lost the real person behind it. But even more so, make sure every once in a while you take that time to just be you, all of you, with someone who gets it, knows it and loves it!


Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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gaby keren Jerusalem March 12, 2014

Such a deep article. I miss you at the Jewish Woman. Hope you are doing well. Reply

Michelle Melbourne Australia March 14, 2012

the mask I totally totally get the message of this article.
The truth is we ALL wear masks, different masks for different people and different environments. The "comfort" a person may feel with one person is not a measure of the value or strength of any other relationship the person has, even the one with their spouse. I know the comfort Sara is talking about and the level of intimacy she shares with her friend that only history and experiences can provide. I also know how this kind of connection strengthens a person and betters all their other relationships, including their marriages.
Sara, keep writing because you write the truth so beautifully. Reply

Ilona Brandt-Tom Ardmore, PA March 8, 2012

Mask or personal features Roles whether they are professional or family oriented allow us the opportunity to reveal ourselves differently. Masks or roles we play?. Experiences from long ago with childhood friends bring us back to times of freedom and often joy...early commardarie. As adults we also know there can be danger revealing our innermost secrets. What I take from this article is that girlfriends can support one another and laugh on a different level than with a husband or significant other. SE I am glad you had the opportunity to pay attention to yourself and enjoy the freedom that the vacation gave you. Reply

Mari Rachel Melbourne, Australia via hamerkazshelanu.com.au March 8, 2012

It saddens me that so many women wear masks when they deal with their husbands. I am myself around my beloved man. It's how I knew he was the one. How sad, that others don't have this. :(
I hope all men realize what a gift their wives are. Reply

Tyler Boulder, CO March 7, 2012

Great Article! Great, great article. Thank you :) Reply

Anonymous Bowie, MD March 7, 2012

Loved It! A Purim message for always.

Thank you! Reply

Hadassa March 7, 2012

mask vs husband.... All of what has been said here about the article is valid on different levels, however, shouldn't we withold judgement on what is revealed to our husbands? Or to anyone for that matter? This is called "Liberty of Conscience" and it is a principle that needs to be in place for all of us. Point being, it is sometimes UNSAFE to UNMASK for certain people even husbands, when that husband has shown himself immature with that information for example. If the person we have unmasked for has viotated us in the past, we will certainly be careful about any further "unveilings" if for no other reason than emotional SURVIVAL....and please spare me the speech that all husbands are safe, because they are not, yet we are stuck with them. Some of them are extremely immature and wreckless with the emotional lives of their wives....and so whom can we turn to, but someone outside the fold. So that we can have a repreive from the guarded way we must live,,,,,,behind that mask....nuff said. Reply

Natalia woodmere, ny March 7, 2012

I, too, am a baalas teshuva, who experiences time with my chldhood best friend as a gift. We grew up in one another's homes. We share memories of our parents and our siblings as well as of our own experiences together. The fact that I have Gd and Torah in my life and right now, she doesn't, does not get in the way of our special relationship. We too, laugh and cry and reminisce. As I am blocked from most of my childhood memories, my dear friend actually serves as my memory..she retained what I repressed. She gives me insight into what life waslike in my family of origin, and that helps me understand who I am today,. I am grateful that our lifestyle differnces do not divide us. In fact, I feel that I have a wonderful opportunity to share what living as a Torah observant wife, woman, daughter, and mother is. Yes, I am myself with my Creator and with my husband, yet I totally relate to the author's intent in the above piece. Reply

Michal Kay ramat beit shemesh, Israel March 6, 2012

Taking Off My Mask I so enjoyed "Taking Off My Mask" I appreciate what poster Alan S. from Long Island had to say, but Mr. S., I will tell you that it is clear that you are not a woman and that you do not have an old childhood friend like we women and girls have. I too have a best friend, from kindergarten. I am a religious Jew, living in Israel. She is a non-believing Gentile, in Calif. But, she is my dearest friend, who understands me better than anyone - yes, even my husband, who is a wonderful man, who I have been married to for 21 happy years. Don't let Ms. Crispe's super friendship with a girlfriend from her youth make you the least bit uncomfortable. She married her husband, and chose to spend her life with him. But know that we girls (women) always want to look good for our husbands - as we should. It doesn't mean putting on a show, it means wanting to feel beautiful in our husband's eyes. With an old girlfriend we can really "let our hair down." It's good. Reply

Chana BROOKLYN, NY March 6, 2012

demasking Great expression there. I think it's wonderful that you got to spend time with yourself. Welcome back to who you are. I hope some of that stays with you as vacation memories fade away. Reply

Anonymous brooklyn, NY March 6, 2012

just a different mask why is the author assuming that with her friend there is no mask. that is the real you?! why? because you are the most comfortable with it? does your friend understand your relationship with G-d and your religious journey, or the value of all your work? I hope those are real parts of yourself.....! Maybe your real you is during prayer, when you express yourself to the almighty who knows your entire self? Reply

Alan S. Long Island, NY March 4, 2012

I understand what the author was trying to relate in her article, however, I was a bit uncomfortable with a few of the concepts. Surely we all act differently in our many roles in life. However, I would hope that that the one person that Ms. Crispe reveals her innermost core to is to her husband, not a long time friend, even a long time best friend. Yes, only these two old friends can talk about their past times together, but saying "my mask is off" should belong to the time she is with her husband. In my humble opinion, ideally, she should feel that she is the "real me" with her husband, not with a current friend or an old best friend. Reply

Every situation we find ourselves in is a lesson waiting to be learned. That is what this blog is about. From the people I meet, the places I go and the experiences I have, stories emerge, each teaching me something that I hope you will find useful for your life as well.
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.