Friday, March 14, 2014

Two Purim Stories

Purim is my favorite holiday.

I love the costumes, reading the story of how Esther and Mordechai saved the Jewish people, the joy and noise in the synagogue, the festive meal, and giving out baskets of goodies. It’s a chance for me to express my creativity, and it’s just plain fun!

It’s traditional for children to dress up in costumes on Purim, but this tradition takes an odd and humorous twist in the story of my grandparents’ courtship in Jerusalem in the mid-1920s.

My grandmother fell in love with my grandfather when she was just fifteen. They lived on opposite sides of the same apartment complex, and they sent each other love letters that they pinned to a clothesline that stretched from one side of the complex to the other. It was all very romantic and not at all proper for the son and daughter of two distinguished orthodox rabbis.

Of course, if you read my previous post, you already know that when Rivka Schorr wanted something, Rivka Schorr did not let anything get in her way. The fathers sat down, and the marriage was arranged.

The wedding was a few months away, and it was a Jewish Jerusalem tradition for a girl to give her fiancé gifts on each of the holidays that took place between the engagement and the wedding. Young Rivka looked forward to Purim. She was going to give her beloved the perfect Mishlo’ach Manot. She had even hand crocheted the cloth that covered the tray of homemade foods.

One of my homemade Purim baskets with a garden theme. The Megillah printed scroll came with a story I wrote about Queen Esther asking a bee and a butterfly in the king's garden for advice.
It’s traditional to have someone else deliver Mishlo’ach Manot for you, but on this particular Purim something very strange happened in Jerusalem: it snowed. This put young Rivka in a bind. No one would agree to deliver the gift to her fiancé for her. And she couldn’t do it herself, could she? It wouldn’t be proper to visit her fiancé’s house. Oh, no.

But this was Rivka Schorr. And when Rivka Schorr wanted something, Rivka Schorr did not let anything get in her way.

So Rivka decided to deliver the Mishlo’ach Manot herself . . . disguised as an Arabic man!

At first Rivka had thought that she had managed to pull it off, but it turned out that she had pulled it off a little too well.

The Mishlo’ach Manot included a bottle of wine, and kosher wine can only be served by a Jew. If it isn’t, it becomes unkosher. My grandfather’s father became so enraged at the thought that a non-Jew had handled it that he poured the wine out and called the wedding off!

Of course, Rivka wasn’t going to let that get in the way of her marrying her beloved. She spoke to her father, who spoke to my grandfather’s father, and everything was straightened out.

Now, this is a great story, and I hate to piggyback on it, but there is another great Purim story that I want to tell you.

My parents lived in an ultra-orthodox and mostly English-speaking neighborhood in Jerusalem. I didn’t like being there on Purim, because the neighbors would often get very drunk.

There is a Purim tradition of drinking until you don’t know the difference between blessing Mordechai and cursing Haman. The members of my family have never been big on drinking. My dad, for example, has been known to mix sweetener in semi dry wine. We just don’t like the stuff. But my parents’ neighbors on Purim, oh, boy, do they like to drink! Driving becomes scary because of people stumbling in front of your car. And people bang on your door, because they want to sing and dance for you, loudly and badly.

So this is the story that my mother used to love to tell. It would make her laugh so hard that it would bring tears to her eyes.

My parents’ apartment is on the first floor of a very tall building, and it has a huge balcony. Huge! The apartments above theirs have much smaller balconies.

Well, as I said, this is an English speaking neighborhood, so when people get dressed up for Purim, they’re more likely to choose the kinds of costumes you might see people wear in the United States for Halloween. Not revealing or scary costumes, but costumes that relate American culture.

So this one Purim, my family is about to sit down for the festive meal. All of a sudden my mom sees something dark and big zooming past the glass door that leads to the balcony, and everyone hears a loud bang. She rushes to the balcony to find out what it is and slides the door open.

There’s a man on the balcony. He jumps to his feet, and she sees he’s dressed as Batman! BATMAN! An ultra-orthodox Jewish Batman!

And he is drunk. So drunk he has no idea he just fell two stories and is lucky to be standing at all. He sees the open door, rushes past her with his black cape flying behind him, rushes past my dad who cannot believe what he’s seeing, leaves the apartment, and heads back upstairs.

And that is my mom’s funny story about how Batman literally crashed her Purim feast.

Every year I hand out creative Mishlo’ach Manot baskets. One year, I created a booklet about “Winnie the Pooh-rim.” Another year I made bento boxes with a flower and garden design. Yet another year I created an Alice in Wonderland picnic. This year, however, I’m not allowed to give more than one Mishlo’ach Manot, because my mother passed away in December, and my daughter will be handling the Mishlo’ach Manot instead. Still, I hope you have a wonderful Purim. It is my favorite holiday, and that’s something I can’t disguise.

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