The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honour. Esther 8:16
Whenever anyone asks me why I made aliyah, I give the standard Zionist Israel-is-the-only-place-for-Jews answer. But really, the answer is much simpler. In Israel, you only celebrate one seder on Pesach, but you have two birthdays.
There is also a two-day Purim. On the 14th of Adar, most of Israel celebrates the joyous holiday, but on the 15th, it is celebrated in Jerusalem. So, if you plan ahead, and play your cards right, you can actually manage to get out of the whole thing and not bother with the whole bash at all.
It’s not that I don’t love Purim. Of course I do, I’m not a grinch! Not liking Purim would be akin to not liking kittens, or babies. Oh. Right.
It’s just that, no matter how carefully I prepare and plan, Purim always seem to end in tears. Usually mine.
When the kids were young, they would request a specific costume; a bird, a pirate, superman. I would go to the fabric store, purchase the required shiny material in different colours, painstakingly glue feathers on an old sweatshirt, lovingly sew capes and hats, and even cover sword-shaped bits of cardboard with aluminum foil. And I would do it all as if I didn’t have anything better to do, like finally clean out the storeroom, or scrape off the soap stains from the top of the washing machine, or begin the 500-page opus I planned to write if only I didn’t have to sew Purim costumes all the time.
And the night before the gala school Purim carnival, the kid(s) would look at the dreamy costume I had whipped up and nonchalantly tell me that that wasn’t what s/he wanted. “Make another one, this time in green.” Tears would ensue. The kids would hand me tissues, but stood their ground.
One year, everyone had to have a cape. I had four different capes in three different colors. Two had lining. And then, to piss me off, they all exchanged capes. Superman had a BLACK cape, and the magician thought he could fly. Frodo’s Dracula cape (with the red lining and a cardboard collar that stood up – what a genius I was!) dragged on the floor. Wasn’t that a hoot.
Sometimes, I considered buying a costume. Little-girl costumes were easy. Everyone was a queen. There were costumes for a queen of hearts, a queen of daisies, a queen of roses, a queen of all the flowers, a queen of wolves, a queen of cookies, a Spanish queen, a Chinese queen, and the queen of strawberries. But my girls were much too sophisticated to be a queen. The queen of gnomes was not for them, nor the queen of butterflies. They were too worldly, too practical, too snooty to be a queen.
No, my girls wanted to be vampires! Zombies! A person murdered in their nightgown with blood dripping out of their mouths!!! How cool is that!
Of course, once the girls got older, THEN they wanted to buy an available costume. Most of the costumes for tweens (what a stupid word) were cultural; a Spanish flamenco dancer, or a Chinese farm girl. But all these girls, according to the costume, seemed to also work nights. So you would have a Dutch working girl with wooden shoes, or a Japanese kimono-clad working girl, or even an American working girl who played baseball during the day….
One year, one very young child told me the night before Purim after I made a lovely clown costume, that, simply, he wouldn’t be caught dead going out of the house in the costume but he wanted to be a thpathe alien. Looking at my gorgeous-to-die-for little baby, his almost blonde hair falling into his eyes, his head tilted at an angle, my heart melted and I told him “no chance, buster.”
“Mom”, said this three year old who had watched ET 23,457 times, “I need to be a thpathe alien.”
By chance, the very next day, I happened upon a tiny space alien costume that was on sale for very little money – like 20 NIS ($5), so I bought it. It was the first, and remains the only, time I bought a costume. I brought it home and showed my son, who was so excited it was worth every bit of the 20 NIS. Finally, I was going to have a satisfied child.
The only problem was, the costume made him look not so much like a space alien, but like a giant frog. And sure enough, next to the tag that said ‘WARNING! This costume is liable to spontaneously combust when exposed to strong winds’, there was another tag that said ‘Frog Prince’. I’d been had.
This brings me to mishloach manot – those gifts of food that families give to one another, usually made up of cookies, candies, and chocolates. These gifts make the day almost nightmarish with all the yelling and pushing.
“That chocolate is MINE! You can have the toffee!”
“I saw that cookie first! It’s not fair!”
And that was just me and my husband. You should have heard the kids.
Admittedly, it’s a bit creepy that we’ve named a special Purim cookie after the villain (he-who-must-not-be-named except in cookie form)—hamentashen in Yiddish means Haman’s pockets, and Oznei Haman in Hebrew means Haman’s ears. (There’s no English word for this particular treat.) Eating a hamantashen symbolizes the destruction of Haman (may his name be blotted out!) much the same way we blow whistles and rattle graggers and stamp our feet every time his name (may it be blotted out!) is mentioned during the reading of the Megillah.
But it’s like naming a frosted doughnut ‘Bin-Laden’s Beard’ or a chocolate bar ‘Stalin’s Mustache’ (may their names be blotted out!).
Purim is truly a magnificent and joyous holiday. May we be blessed to celebrate in health and joy and with the selfless love of Queen Esther, that the way should be paved for the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash and the coming of the Masiach, bimheray be’yamenuh.