Purim in a Time of Chaos
It’s always chaotic during Purim. And not by chance: This is the official holiday of chaos. But this year, there’s more noise and chaos than ever around here. Disruption is the theme of the day. Since this new coalition took office in January, many of us have been out protesting. We rally at junctions, and we march through the streets. We are infuriated and outraged. We are truly worried about the future of democracy in Israel. And so we gather together to shout and stomp.
I work full-time during the week so I join the throng at Kaplan Street junction on Saturday nights. We wave the flag, and we sing Hatikvah. We toot horns, blow whistles, bang on cowbells, and beat drums. When the speeches start, we boo the names of the evil-doers just as people boo the name of Haman during the reading of the Megillah. We shout, SHAME, SHAME, SHAME! So to me, it has felt a bit like Purim every Saturday night for the past 2 months.
But today I’m taking a break from my stomping and shouting to celebrate the actual Purim holiday. My costume is ready and so am I. I am so ready to take a break from the news. It’s time to step out and party.
Purim is my favorite holiday – not just my favorite Jewish holiday, but my all-time favorite holiday, anywhere, anytime. And believe me, as a very secular citizen of the world, I have celebrated a lot of holidays: Chinese New Year, Bastille Day, Thanksgiving, Diwali, Fourth of July…
I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, not yet at least, so I can’t compare or judge that one. But my guess is that even compared to a genuine NOLA Mardi Gras or Rio carnival, Purim would still win. I love the story – except for the part about the victorious Jews killing all those Persians. I really hate that part. But I like the part about Vashti refusing to dance for her supper (or her life, as it turned out). I love the part about Esther being snuck in to that palace beauty contest and then using her insider position and her feminine wiles to save her/our people. I love that we celebrate this holiday by acting wild, getting drunk, getting noisy, and doing things the opposite way – sort of a Jewish April Fool’s Day. And then there’s the part where we put together baskets of goodies to share with others: Mishloach manot. That tradition comes straight from the Megillah, The Book of Esther, which tells us to feast and to send portions of food to others, and to give to the poor. Basically any time we Jews feast, we are supposed to take care of those who cannot afford a feast of their own. My kind of Judaism.
I love the feasting and giving connection. I love the chaos and the randomness and the wackiness of this holiday. But mostly I love to dress up in costume and I love to make noise. So this is the holiday for me. No need to get drunk… Kosher wine was never my thing anyway. Never mind that I have never, ever, liked eating hamantaschen. Even when they’re fresh out of the oven, they always seem dry and crumbly to me. And I’m happy to forego the poppy seeds in the teeth syndrome.
But hamantaschen and kosher wine aside, Purim is a pretty perfect holiday for me. I come by it honestly: I am the daughter of the greatest costume-maker ever. Seriously, my mom designed and made the costumes for her entire dance company. So it was only natural that the family should expect her to create all our Purim and Halloween costumes. And she did. Mom excelled at costume creation – never disappointing – every single year. Even the year that I made her life hell by insisting that she transform me into a snake.
The thing is that the Hebrew School teacher had told us that we should dress up as someone in the bible. One of my favorite bible characters was the snake… Not sure why … Maybe I thought the snake was cool because he/she/it was so tricky. Yes, I was a little troublemaker. I’m guessing I was 7 or 8 at the time. Maybe it’s just that I was not a very diligent student and hadn’t made it past the Book of Genesis at that point… Whatever.
That costume was a real challenge for Mom – which she met with aplomb. There was some strange synthetic shiny cloth wrapped around huge coils of thin wire, with eye holes and a mouth hole and armholes and leg holes… and then, there I was inside this snake-shaped structure. I had managed to step into my snakeskin and squiggle around and stay inside it from the time I left for the Purim party at the synagogue until I got home. Not sure why there was not a bathroom accident. Or maybe there was, and I’ve blocked that part out. Who knows. Who cares. That Purim, I was a huge hit with everyone except my dismayed Hebrew School teacher. I, for one, was delighted. And Mom was the hero of the day.
Up until the Year of the Snake, I’d been just another Queen Esther, like every other little girl in Hebrew School. There I am aged 2, smiling in my tin-foil crown. And a couple years later, there I am again in queenly regalia, cardboard crown painted gold – an upgrade from the tin-foil model. After all those Queen Esther costumes, I am sure that having the chance to pick my own outfit was exhilarating. Sadly, there are no photos of that wonderful snake costume, but ask anyone in my family and they’ll describe it for you. In the years since I’ve been everything from Cleopatra to a pirate to a cowboy and a cat… And all thanks to Mom who infected me with her love of cosplay – before they had even coined that word! HAPPY PURIM, EVERYONE!