Purim is typically marked by masquerades, song and hamantaschen, a triangular jam- or chocolate-filled cookie. But for the first time this year, a student organization is observing the holiday by hosting drag performances.
Jewish Voice for Peace, a student organization that advocates for Palestinian human rights, will host Drag Purim on Monday from 8 to 10 p.m. in the Multicultural Student Services Center. The event will feature four drag queens, including one student drag queen, a costume contest and a reading of the story of Purim.
Gabriela Rossner, a junior majoring in environmental studies and a member of the coordinating committee for Jewish Voice for Peace, said the idea to combine Purim – a Jewish holiday that celebrates the failure of an attempted genocide of Jewish people – with drag came when Rossner realized that drag and Purim are more similar than she had previously thought.
“I just kind of connected the things – Purim is a holiday where you dress up and you’re merry and celebrate the spirit of resistance,” Rossner said. “And drag is about dressing up and the spirit of resistance.”
Rossner said while this is the organization’s first Drag Purim, she hopes it will become an annual event.
Purim stems from the Book of Esther, which tells the story of Esther, who saved the Jewish people from being exterminated by Haman, a high-ranking political adviser in the Persian empire. Esther became the queen of Persia – without disclosing her Jewish identity – after King Ahasuerus’ wife Vashti was banished after refusing to appear at a banquet.
After a Jewish man, Mordechai, refused to bow down to Haman, the political adviser decided to exterminate all Jewish people. To save her people, Esther held a banquet – where she revealed she was Jewish – and King Ahasuerus had Haman killed, saving the Jewish people.
While there is nothing in the Book of Esther that says people should dress up for Purim, some rabbinical teachers believe that the tradition of changing identities through costume began to mirror Esther hiding her Jewish identity.
At Drag Purim, attendees will watch a drag show performed by Crystal Edge, who is a student, along with three other drag queens who perform around the District: Katrina Colby, Anastasia Dior and Labella Mafia.
The drag queens will do a reading of the story of Purim before putting on a traditional drag show with music and elaborate costumes and makeup. Attendees of the event are encouraged to dress up in their own costumes, bring groggers – a noise-making device that is supposed to be used every time Haman’s name is mentioned during the story retelling – and come with cash tips for the drag queens.
There will also be a costume contest, which has no prize other than “eternal pride,” Rossner said.
Rossner said that community-driven events like Drag Purim are a part of Jewish Voice for Peace’s mission on campus.
“Not a lot of people know about Purim and not a lot of people know about Jewish holidays, so we want to be able to involve the general GW community,” she said. “The second part of it is that one part of JVP’s mission is to create a space for Jewish people on campus that is separate from any Zionism. We really work on fostering a community that is independent of political allegiance to Israel.”
Matt Enman, a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication, will host Drag Purim as Crystal Edge. Enman said the event is his second on-campus performance – his first was at Delta Lambda Phi’s charity drag show last year – and he was asked by Rossner, who is his friend, to perform. He said that he enjoyed performing at the Delta Lambda Phi show last year and is excited to perform again in front of his peers.
He also said that despite being a student, he tries to treat on-campus gigs the same as any other performance in the District.
“I treat it like it’s any other gig,” Enman said. “I don’t think just because I go to GW or just because it’s a college event I need to act any differently, so I just treat it as if it’s a normal gig that I’ve been booked for.”
On top of being a student, Enman is a full-time drag queen and hosts weekly shows at The D.C. Eagle and drag brunch at City Tap House in Dupont Circle. Enman’s home bar was Cobalt before it closed earlier this month.
Enman said he helped the student organization secure the other three drag queens, who are his friends, for the show. Enman also said that despite not knowing a lot about Purim, he plans to read the story, make it funny and put his drag hosting spin on it through his drag persona Crystal Edge, whom Enman describes as a “festishy Bratz doll.”
“It’s going to be a really fun and diverse show,” he said. “It should be a good time.”
Molly Kaiser contributed reporting.