As holidays go, Purim is underrated. It got a little more attention this year than usual because Passover is so darn late, but Purim usually doesn’t get the holiday cred it deserves.
With Purim there’s no need to cook and host a big family dinner (not that that’s always a bad thing). There’s no need to build a hut in the backyard or look for gifts for the cousins who say, “I don’t need a thing.” To us, Purim means a synagogue service where it’s not only okay to make noise – it’s encouraged. And a carnival with games, crafts and a moon bounce.
But most of all Purim means we get our fill of hamantaschen, those yummy, triangular-shaped, filled cookies that come around just once a year.
Hamantashen can be bought, baked, or shnorred. You can buy them at the supermarket and try to be satisfied with the preservative-laden pastries in a plastic shell that was probably packed back in February. You can pay a lot for them at a fancy bakery. You can also bake them yourself. Ellen did just that and then sent shalach manot (the traditional Purim gift packages given to family, friends and the needy) to children living on their own, children away at school and a mother-in-law who likes to get surprise packages. The flavors? Apricot, cherry, chocolate chip, lekvar and mun (poppy seed). Her husband loves the mun ones, and after years of being told “no one likes mun but you,” he was happy to discover that his nieces also like mun hummies.
The leftover levkar? You can spread it – instead of jam – on toast. Some people are as disgusted by this as we are by mun. We’re more upset that the supermarket has moved the leftover containers of hamantashen to the shelves with all the Pesach stuff.
Then there are those of us who shnorr hamantashen. We picked out the cherry ones at the oneg after services. Some came in the shalach manot basket from Sisterhood, and we ate some more when we went to a friend’s house for lunch.
When our children were young, we went with them to Purim carnivals, where they would ask us to buy more game tickets, watch them throw the bean bag at Haman, and help carry home all the chazerai they won. In their teenage years, as members of the synagogue youth group, they were charged with supervising the Purim carnival. They dressed up as Haman and volunteered to get hit in the face with shaving cream pies. They doled out the prizes, and we had a chance to join in the fun. Now that our kids are grown, we have not gone to a Purim carnival for several years. It’s one of those activities that require you to bring a kid.
Not going to the Purim carnival can be good news: We don’t have to take care of the goldfish the kids won.
The bad news: We don’t have a grandchild to take care of either.
Biblical names have always been popular. Jewish mothers ask, “Why name your daughter Brittney when you can go with something classic?” That’s why we have aunts named Ruth and Esther and friends named Rachel. We did not send a birthday gift to Gwyneth Paltrow’s son – Moses, but we did to a newborn named Noah. But we were surprised to read about a girl named Vashti. She is the daughter of former Eagles’ quarterback Randall Cunningham.
We know Queen Vashti, King Ahasuerus’s first wife, who was deposed by Esther, the heroine of the Purim story. But Vashti Cunningham? Maybe the Cunningham parents were familiar with Queen Vashti’s status as the original feminist. This brave woman risked her life by refusing her husband (the king) when he summoned her to “entertain” his drunken guests at a banquet.
And speaking of drunken guests …. on Purim there’s an open bar. Passover has the four cups of wine, but on Purim liquor is often offered in the back of the synagogue so congregants can indulge while listening to the megillah. You’re supposed to drink enough until you can no longer tell the difference between Mordechai (the good guy) and Haman (the bad guy). This is one tradition that we don’t have to nag our adult kids to observe; they are more than happy to embrace this aspect of their heritage.
Another Purim tradition is to make noise during the reading of the megillah to drown out Haman’s name. His name is mentioned quite a bit, which leads to a lot of shouting, clapping and turning the grager, the traditional Purim noisemaker.
Making noise, shouting and interrupting . . . It sounds a bit like some of the recent presidential debates. In fact we’d like to bring this tradition to the next Republican debate: We will shout and wave our gragers whenever Trump’s name is mentioned. Hmm: Who else has five letters in his name? Haman. Coincidence? We don’t think so.