It’s Purim! The sun is fading and the day is quieting down. All the bustling on the streets has been moved indoors where family and friends are ending the day with a festive meal and spilling the joy deep into to the night long after Purim is officially over.
Last year we had a pie fight. My husband was sick and I was hosting a young professionals party. What can I say, the party needed some amping up. So I took the cream pie that was waiting for dessert and pied Jennifer. My kids followed suit and before you could yell “Stooooopppp!” Seven pies were being smashed and splattered over every inch of the house and on some very unhappy guests! It was epic! I wish I could say I felt bad, but honestly I had so much fun, that I didn’t.
This year (yes, if you’ve been following me, you’ll notice that very little about this year is normal) I’m sick. My daughter Minky got strep throat this week as a 13th birthday present and I guess cuddling her in bed Thursday night wasn’t the best idea because I woke up sick too. So I’ve basically been alternating between staying in bed and falling asleep on the couch.
So no pie fights this year, and no big parties. But laying low and keeping things on barely a simmer allowed me to see so much that I may have missed otherwise. My illness made me an observer instead of a participant – here are just a few things I saw.
Last night, as the kids got into their costumes I saw how my 16 year old had used her own money to buy Minky a gorgeous mask. Minky had been sick and was generally feeling miserable. Then her sister brought her in an exquisite mask and she lit up.
At shul (synagogue) I walked in to a standing room only scene when I came to hear the Megilla, and watched as one by one, people got up to make room for someone older than them.And completely shifted spaces to make room for the woman who came in with a walker.
It’s an important Mitzvah (Torah commandment) to give charity on Purim. I saw the Rabbi holding a wad of cash and checks that would make your eyes pop out. The money came from congregants who are not wealthy but who give what they can to help others. And the trust system is so implicit. On Purim day the Rabbi distributes it to wherever it is needed most. I thought, this is such a simple thing, we take it for granted.
The day was filled with a joyful sense of camaraderie. People filled the streets in ridiculous costumes,jumping out of cars, delivering gifts to neighbors, friends, the elderly and anyone else they passed by.
I always marvel the contrast of Purim and Halloween – kids running around giving versus kids running around collecting for themselves.
At different street corners someone thought of an ingenious idea and set up “volunteer tollbooths” manned by cute kids and their families collecting charity. And my neighbors set up as they always do, a stereo in the the street that played music all day long.
This Purim we made sure that kids with disabilities who don’t have a large peer group – or anyone who is more isolated – would receive shaloch manos from volunteers. Again and again, I got feedback from volunteers how much they enjoyed paying that visit and making a difference in someone’s life. It’s really a day of giving; an expression of our deep unity and brotherhood.
It’s hard to describe. To the outside eye, it may look like a street fair or similar festival. But the life of a Jew is so complex.
We’re always laughing and crying at the same time. The past and the present mingle and there are no boundaries between the stories of our People nearby or far away. We celebrate our victory as much as we’re aware that we hold onto it by a thread.
As a matter of fact, we had to be extra careful to lock up before we went to hear the megilla because of the slew of targeted robberies and the Yeshiva boys that have gotten beaten up recently. Even as we celebrate that we triumphed over our enemies by the grace of G-d, we know that right behind us there are more.
Purim, like every other Jewish holiday is one big L’chaim – to Life! We may be misunderstood, beaten down, and as we speak, being chased out of the Ukraine and emptied out of France, but we live. We’re here! We have every opportunity to give and to be grateful. And as long as we have life, we have something to be joyous about.