By Rabbi Navah Levine

Rabbi-Educator, Temple Emeth

The day after my son was born, an article published in USA Today carried the following title: “Is make-believe vital to kids? You better believe it.” Make-believe, the story began, is “crucial to the development of creativity, empathy, learning and problem-solving…”   

The piece focused on the work of psychologist Susan Linn, who advocates for more imaginative play opportunities for children. She encourages cutting back on screen time and electronic toys in favor of such things as blocks and simple dolls, firefighter hats, toy doctor’s kits and other dress-up items that allow children to be creative as they play and pretend. As stated by Linn, “Children use make-believe to conquer their fears and explore their hopes and dreams…It’s a safe haven for honest self-expression.”   

Holding my one-day-old baby, I was far too busy trying to feed him and name him to read an article on child development, no matter how insightful. However, since then, years have passed and Ari has both a name and a healthy appetite. He also has an active imagination that I find fascinating. As frustrating as it can also be at times (say, when I want my child to put the truck down and brush his teeth already, but he can’t stop until he finishes pouring the concrete for a new skyscraper…), I know that when kids are deep in that make-believe zone, it is very real and significant to them.  Now that Ari is four and a make-believe genius, I appreciate what Susan Linn’s research has to say to us about children, and also what it might teach us by extension about carving out and respecting make-believe time for adults, too.

created at: 2013-02-07Purim is the perfect time to let your inner-child loose to play in the world of imagination. Putting on a costume is an opportunity to pretend to be a different person with a different personality. Wearing a mask helps us explore dimensions of our being we may not want or be ready to inhabit in real life. We can make-believe we are Hamen or Esther or Mordecai (or a dancer, or a Boston police officer…) We can cross-dress or clown-dress and be heroes or villains.

Maybe trying on the personality of who we are not provides some insight into who we are the rest of the year. Maybe as with children, it helps inculcate in adults as well greater creativity, empathy and problem-solving abilities. Or maybe it’s just fun. Either way, consider this an invitation to join in the make-believe – come in costume, and celebrate Purim as Queen Esther and Mordecai intended.

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