I hate to admit it, but Purim has always been my least favorite Jewish holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy the holiday to some extent, but most of the time I just find it stressful and can’t wait to get it over with. Given the stress associated with Passover, this may seem a little odd, but for those who know me well, you know that I like order, and Purim is characterized by anything but that. The chaos associated with Purim always makes me feel anxious. This year, however, things were much different.
The build up to Purim started months ago. One of Adam’s goals over the past few years has been to learn the whole megillah, which is really known as Megillah Esther, and it contains the story of Purim. Last year he learned the first four chapters, and this year he accomplished his goal. Practically every night and lots of time over Shabbat, he would practice, expanding what he knew a few lines at a time until he learned the whole thing. Once he had learned the entire thing, he would review it almost daily to keep it fresh in his mind. Most of the time he would practice before bed, and I would fall asleep to him chanting the verses of this fascinating story. As we got closer to Purim, I would follow along with him to check his pronunciation and tune since the megillah is read from a scroll that does not have the vowels and note symbols. It was nice to share this with him, and it made me more familiar with the words of story.
As Adam progressed in his learning of the megillah, he mentioned that at some point in the future he would like to buy his own. He had mentioned it before when we lived in West Hartford, but the price of a megillah is pretty high, especially in the US. As he finished learning the final verses, he began to search for prices here in Israel. The scrolls he found were cheaper than back home, although still a bit pricey. He was willing to wait to buy it at another point in time, but since the prices are cheaper here in Israel, I told him that we should go for it. I mean, after all, he just learned the WHOLE megillah. It was a present well earned, and one that I know he will cherish forever. So, one rainy day, we went to the store and bought a megillah.
Our Purim preparations were now underway. We had only a few more details to work out; what will our costumes be and what are we going to do about the festive meal (seudah). We decided on the festive meal right away; for the first time in our marriage, we decided to host the seudah. We decided to invite our Fulbright friends in Jerusalem along with a few other friends. They were all excited to come, and we were happy that they wanted to spend it with us. We planned the meal and cooked it over the last two days. I made more than enough (as usual) and every one had their share of lunch and dessert. I really think the planning and making the seudah helped me get more excited for the holiday. It gave me something to focus my attention on in relation to the holiday. It made me look forward to Purim rather than my usual dread.
Our costume idea was a bit more last minute. Purim occurs in the Jewish month of Adar, and at the beginning of the month, costumes for purchase began to appear all over the place. I couldn’t help looking at what was available and while many of them seemed fun (we could have been angry birds after all), Adam and I have never really liked purchasing our costumes. We like to be a bit creative and make them ourselves. We were pretty stuck until we had dinner with our friends last week. Leslie Adler, who was visiting from West Hartford, gave us the idea of being playing cards. She suggested wearing poster size paper with the cards printed on them, which was a great idea, but we made the idea a little more us. Adam and I were the King and Queen of hearts. We had hearts all over and hand-colored paper crowns with hearts. It is amazing how fun it can be to color with crayons; no wonder kids are always so happy.
Now that we were all set for Purim, we just had to wait for it to come. Like all Jewish holidays, Purim begins at night and continues into the following day. This year, Purim began on Saturday night and continued through Sunday. However, because we live in Jerusalem, we celebrate what is known as Shushan Purim, which began Sunday night and continued through Monday. The reason for this is a bit too long to write out here, so I’m going to skip it at the moment. If anyone is interested in the details, you can let us know and we will share what we have learned about it. Anyway, this year I felt like Purim started a early. Candy has been on sale for a while since it is common to give out on Purim as part of the traditional gifts that you give to people. For about a month I have been hearing what sounds like gunshots but it turns out that they are toy guns that make noise for Purim. (It turns out that these are illegal but people use them anyway). On Friday, as Adam and I made our way to Ra’anana to visit our friends we saw people walking around in costume. Even the buses were ready for Purim. On the sign that tells you what stop is next it also said Purim Sameach, which means Happy Purim! You could feel the excitement for the holiday building as it came closer.
When we got to Ra’anana for Shabbat, the pre-Purim celebration continued in a way that helped me further connect with the holiday. One of the traditions of the holiday is to turn things “upside-down” since Haman (the antagonist of the story) got his plans to exterminate the Jews of Shushan turned upside down. Usually I hear this tradition discussed in terms of alcohol and on many occasions have felt almost bullied into drinking since it is part of the holiday and I am not celebrating correctly if I don’t get at least a little tipsy. For those of you who don’t know, I hate alcohol. And when I say hate, I mean hate. I can’t stand the smell of it, let alone the taste of it. Adam and I actually got married over grape juice at our wedding so that I wouldn’t make an awfully unladylike face when I drank from the cup. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind when other people drink. They can get tipsy or drunk if they want; it doesn’t matter to me as long as they don’t get sick on my stuff. To each their own, but I don’t like to be told that I am not properly celebrating the holiday because I’m not drinking. These types of interactions always added another layer of anxiety for me at Purim. This year, however, I got to see things flipped upside down in a different way, a fun way, that made that anxiety melt away. At the Rosensweigs, they take this tradition to heart since it adds to the joy of the holiday. For Shabbat dinner, we did silly things; we moved the dining room table into the living room and everyone sat in a different seat. The kids sat at the head of the table and for the first time in a long time, Elisha and Anat got to sit next to each other. I know that it sounds a bit tame, but it is the kind of craziness that I like. It was simple good fun, and it allowed me to think about this tradition in a new, more positive way.
The rest of Shabbat was wonderful and relaxing. We had a chance to have some great conversations with Elisha and Anat, we played with the kids, we went to synagogue, and we even had an extended nap. After Shabbat was over, we helped the kids get into their costumes, and then the Rosensweigs had to run back to synagogue since Purim was starting for them. It was time to hear the megillah and have fun at the party. Adam and I originally thought we would stay and join in the festivities a little, but instead we decided to go home since we didn’t want to get back too late. When we got back to Jerusalem, things were quiet because it wasn’t Purim yet. We saw a few people dressed in costume, but over all it was just a normal Saturday night.
Sunday morning began our final Purim preparations. I began cooking for the seudah and both Adam and I cleaned the apartment. When Purim began we went to the synagogue that we regularly attend for the reading of the megillah. Adam brought his with him since it is common practice in Israel to bring your own and read/follow along. I brought a book of the megillah that I purchased in the morning. It has the megillah with the vowels and a line by line translation so that I know what is going on. The megillah reading was really fun. The crowd was very into it, adding sound effects throughout the story to make it really come alive. For example, when the story mentions couriers running to deliver edicts, people would make noises with their feet that made it sound like people were running. When the antagonist’s wife was mentioned, people would hiss. It was really fun! After the megillah reading, Adam and I went home and put together our mishloach manot. Besides hearing the megillah (twice) and having a meal, the final requirements of the holiday are to give small gifts to people and to give charity. Every family has a different tradition when putting together their mishloach manot. Some families choose foods that have a theme, some give foods that are practical (the Rosensweigs gave soup and rolls one year), and others do an odd mixture of foods. We fall into the last category. Our little bags contained an apple, a piece of chocolate, a tea bag, and a hamantaschen. Hamantaschen are Purim cookies, which in Israel are known as Haman’s ears. They are shaped like a triangle and are filled with different things. In the United States they tend to be filled with jams (strawberry, apricot, etc.). Here you can get dates, chocolate, nuts, and many more. Back home we would always make our own hamantaschen, but this year we didn’t have the time nor the cooking equipment to make them. Wonderfully, every bakery in Israel sells them at this time of year. We bought some delicious ones from a small bakery near us. We know they are yummy because we couldn’t help but eat a few of the leftovers!
Monday morning, we went to synagogue again to hear the megillah. Our friend Naomi was there, which made it extra fun. The reading was as wonderful as the night before. I couldn’t help but smile when people added the sound effects, and this time someone had an old-style fanfare trumpet which was played when the hero was announced and was paraded around town in the story. It was so fun! After the morning megillah reading, it is tradition to deliver the mishloach manot to friends and family. Since we don’t know many people here yet, and the ones we do know we don’t know where they live, we kept most of ours to be distributed at the Purim suedah. So instead of running around town, we came home and continued to cook and clean. We actually got everything together with time to spare. When our friend Ellie arrived, we were just relaxing. Ellie hadn’t gotten a chance to hear the megillah yet, so Adam read it to her. He did such an amazing job! I was so proud of him!
After he finished, every one slowly began to arrive. We had a wonderful time, eating and chatting. Adam created a play list of songs for Purim. It contained everything from the Maccabeats to Queen to Star Wars to No Doubt. I have to admit I felt a bit old when only half the people in the room remembered Just a Girl by No Doubt. Oh well! Anyway, there was lots of food and plenty of wine and beer for those that wanted to get a bit tipsy. We ate and schmoozed. We had a great time with everyone and hope that they enjoyed it as well. Everyone stayed until the sun began to set, and by the time we finished cleaning up, Purim was over. For the first time in possibly my entire life, I was sad that it was over so soon. This really was the best Purim!
To be honest, Purim was special this year because we were in Israel. While I am always proud to be Jewish and about the Jewish holidays in the US, it is often hard to fully enjoy the holidays when you still have to go to work or have to make sub-plans because you are going to be absent. It is hard to be excited about the holidays when most of the people you associate with have no idea what you are talking about and if you try to explain the holidays to them, things just sound really crazy. Being in Israel for the holidays increases the joy and excitement of them. How can you not be excited when everyone else is? Sharing the holiday with so many people is an amazing experience!
With Purim ending, it is now time to prepare for Passover. I know that being in Israel will change this holiday experience as well, but that will be something to talk about in a future post.
Until next time…