Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Isru Shushan Purim, er, whatever

Purim is one of the few occassions on the calendar that make me happy to be living in New York. I love everything about it. The Megillah is one of my favorite parts of Tanach, and I always take the time to learn a few sections from it before Purim. I love the kids dressing up, the bochrim singing & dancing for tzedakah, the general mood of merriment and unity, the fact that you can perform melachah but it's still a holiday, the whole gestalt. It's one of the few occassions on the Jewish calendar that I don't even mind being single again, though there is, of course, that terrible pang when I see mothers hording their costumed kids around for Shalach Manos deliveries. But it's a pain that I choose to ignore. Dammit, it's Purim! No wallowing.

Ah, speaking of Shalach Manos...or Mishloach Manot, as we used to say in the community I lived in when I was married, whatta concept. Give the Jews a mitzvah concerning food, and I promise you one thing: they will overdo it. When I was married, I used to participate in the shul/day school Mishloach Manot "program," in which, instead of getting 3,429 MMs from everyone in the community, you got one big one, along with a list of who "sent" it and the shul/day school made a little money from it as well. There were usually a bunch of people who didn't participate in the program and would drop their own personal MMs at our door. For them, I always did the same thing: I would buy a few yards of different, colorful fabrics at Walmart, cut them, stitch them up on the machine into small bags with a ribbon drawstring, and throw some goodies along with a mini bottle of wine into each one. It took me very little time, effort and money. Everyone loved the bags ("what material are you using this year?") and reused them and everyone appreciated the goodies because my one requirement for those goodies was that they also be kosher for Passover. Yes, I know, technically, Mishloach Manot are supposed to be foods that are consumed at the Purim Seudah, but let's get real here...every year after Purim, we are loaded down with fattening, junk-foody candy that we don't need and have to get rid of in one month. We bring it in to work, we eat it ourselves, we unload it on kids, but the bottom line is, we don't need or want it. Giving away packaged stuff that is, incidentally, also K. la'P. doesn't add to that emormous pile of junk.

For the last ten years or so, I have also subscribed to the principle that it makes much more sense to scale down your MM and fatten up your Matanot L'Evyomim (charity given out on the day of Purim). Believe it or not, I have been tracking the amounts that I've given for Matanot L'Evyonim for the last few years (same thing with Ma'ot Chittim....the charity we give before Passover) and I've tried very hard to consistently add money to previous year's amount. There were a few lean years, but this year, Bee-Aitch, I was able to add quite a bit, and I'm pleased with myself. It will give me something to shoot for next year.

As far as scaling down my MM, since my divorce almost a year and a half ago, I'm nearly retired in that regard. I do participate in my current community's MM program. I did buy enough junk to make up one nice, respectable MM that I planned on giving to someone I know who probably doesn't get a lot of MMs, just so that I could fulfill the mitzvah of giving two items of food to one person, but that was it. I didn't plan on being home for most of the day on Purim, so I wouldn't have to answer the door if anyone dropped any MM off, and I already informed my siblings that I was not doing the MM thing this year.

Well, the night before Purim, UPS left an enormous box at my door: bigger than a breadbox, smaller than a piano. My "out-of-town" sister-in-law decided that I wasn't fat enough, and sent me a MM that apparently swallowed sixteen other MM. It was huge. It took my roommate and me twenty minutes to tear away all of the chatchkas and crepe paper and cellophane and other assorted doodads, and we ended up with a pile of expensive junk food a foot high. Truffles, chocolate covered pretzels, hamentashen sculpted out of marzipan, ginormous cookies and chocolates and puffy things....omg, we were swimming in it. Ok, we needed to get rid of this stuff or glue it right to our butts, where it would eventually end up anyway. We popped some popcorn, dug out some small store shopping bags from Sur La Table and JJill, and made up small MM packages from the gigantic one. We were able to put together eight very decent MM packages. We made a list of people we thought probably wouldn't be getting a lot of MM and I would drive them over in the morning.

So the next morning, after Megillah reading and the breakfast seudah, I got in my car, steeled myself and took some deep breaths. Another name for Purim is "Frum Jews Driving Really Badly Day." My dropoffs took me to Brooklyn and Five Towns. Driving through either one of these places on Purim requires a certain amount of visualization. I imagined myself as a little silver ball, pinging my way along in a very high-end, complicated pinball machine maze of traps and curves and flippers and pitfalls. Ping, ping, ping. People truly drive like maniacs on Purim. They park in the middle of the street, jump lights, cut people off at will, don't signal, hold up lines of traffic to search for a house number or to talk to someone on the sidewalk, make sudden turns, zip through stop signs, etc. It's all part of the gestalt of Purim. The pedestrians are no better. Parents let kids run out in the middle of the street, or people congregate in parking spots, or basically they will just walk in front of cars. Because it was Purim, I didn't want to be screaming at anyone, so I smiled and kept both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road, and prayed that I didn't kill anyone or total my car, in that order. In truth, I'm not such a nice person. Outside I may have been smiling, but inside, I was cursing my head off. But masking the bad stuff and showing only your good side is also in the spirit of Purim, right?

It's over. Putting things in perspective, bad driving and too much junk food are really the least of our problems. Let's hope God fulfills nahafochu this year, and turns our bad mazel into good. No more Mercaz HaRav massacres; no more Hamans and Amaleks chipping away at our spirit, taking away our children; please, no more tragedy.

Faithful Readers of TRT, may the rest of your Adar and your year be filled with nothing but happiness.

-WG

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