Valentines went out, Mishloach Manot came in

In my former life, the early days of spring/ last days of winter were marked by rituals commemorating a dude sanctified by some other folks’ religion. What’s more, that holiday made a big deal of the sort of intimacies not found in religious circles; physical contact, between unmarried men and women, as well as the celebration of infatuation, were among that festival’s pinnacles.
My life, B”H, changed. No longer do I make a big deal about goo-goo eyes or about less than subtle eroticism, but about things of a spiritual nature. Specifically, I have moved from Valentine’s Day to Purim.
Growing up in a secular milieu, all I knew of Purim was carnivals and hamantashen. Decades ago, I attended readings of the Megillah, but I don’t recall sitting through an entire reading, let alone sitting silently, so as to literally not miss a single word, or sitting through two entire readings.
Further, the mitzvah of giving tzedakah, charity, on Purim was as foreign to me as was the mitzvah of having a joyous Purim meal, a seudah Purim. I had no idea that we Jews were acknowledging, big time, the hidden salvation Hashem granted our people.
These days, I’m aware that, more than Chanukah’s marvels, Purim’s miracles attest both to how beloved we, as a nation, have been and continue to be to The Boss, and how, even if concealed, He takes care of us. In hindsight, giving charity, working to hear the Megillah, verbatim, twice, and participating in a celebratory meal are nominal relative to the kindness the Almighty gave and gives us.
Back then, I also knew nothing of the exchange of food gifts, meant not to impress via themes or expense, but to help draw our nation into a well-knit whole. I connected such behavior, especially when associated with costumed people, with another holiday, whose roots belong to the same folk who have a good time on the aforementioned amorous day.
Until I refined my understanding of the mitzvah of mishloach manot, I mailed packaged goods across the country and across the world. Later, my family (husband, kids and me) gave out less food and more cards. The cards were imprinted with notices about charity being given in recipients’ honor. The requirement, after all, is not to send twenty or forty samples of comestibles, but to connect with other Yidden via sharing meal-worthy portions.
Despite that increased understanding, my family nonetheless experienced funny mishloach manot moments. For instance, there was the matron, rich in in-laws and in small children, who, annually, rapped on our back door with handfuls of chocolates and of pretzels. Each of her scions, in turn, deposited their own fists of sweets onto our porch counter while hungrily eyeing the cookies we were packaging for yet other families’ baskets. Moments after that flock left our domicile that woman’s in-laws would ring up to inquire whether or not we had succeeded in giving Purim cheer to their grandchildren.
Then there was the young teacher, who davened early on Purim in order to make time, during the regular minyon, to instruct our youngest boys and girls. Thereafter, that enterprising youth brought bowls of fruit and nuts to many of his charges’ doors, all the while, politely inching toward the bottles of wine and of schnapps we elders set aside for visitors. He sung very festively by the time he made it home to his seudah.
As well, there was the father who never failed to voice his opinions on everything from proper mikveh emersion time to the sort of hecsherim chickens ought to carry. Purims found him adding to his wife’s delicious sandwiches and carefully frosted slices of cake spicy diatribes about whatever chumra was bothering him most that year.
Such were the conditions under which my family got to know the mitzvah of mishloach manot in the New World. When we made aliyah to the Old World, we encountered a new set of variables.
For instance, here, one of our dear neighbor’s children remains fond of asking why her Ima and Abba and one of her saftas live in Israel, while the rest of her family are in Chutz La’Aretz. On Shushan Purim, the day we Jerusalem residents celebrate, that little love lights up with queries about Diaspora and about the Holy Land. All comers to her home, whether seudah guests or bearers of food gifts, receive the third degree about how many of their generations live here and about why others of their kin are reluctant to join their families’ immigrants.
In Israel, as well, we have foodies. These delightful sorts, my own sons and daughters included, believe that any food gift missing chemically-derived, brightly packaged, nutrition less junk is not worth the shekalim spent on it. Such persons do not, at least intentionally, get any closer to fruit salads, to baby greens served with croutons, to homemade bean soup offered alongside of whole grain bread, or to any other healthy choice than they would to a terrorist
Prima donnas, too, dot this land of wonders. Such persons do not appreciate the edibles they receive as much as they assess the appellations that come alongside of them. My neighborhood’s assistant bank manager, a few of the plumbers in my family’s circle and an adorable kid, who lives two streets over and who once dropped an entire open bag of taffy on my porch upon noticing that my family was handing out apples, bananas, carrots and mangoes, instead of gummy fish, chocolate milk sacks, potato chips and sugar cookies fit into this category.
Be that as it may, there is the friend who walked into our home with steaming coffee and a freshly baked roll, the pal who served up an ice cream cone alongside of a shot of wheatgrass and the associate who squeezed oranges, before my children’s eyes and then proceeded to serve that juice with a carton of home grown strawberries. Even more important, my family’s community, b’ayin tov, seems to have found the balance among silent reception (except, of course when Haman’s name is sounded) of the Megillah, donations to impoverished others, gifts of food to each other, and the celebratory Purim meal.
My life is now devoid of frilly pink and red cards, of fleshy rationalizations for getting on with getting on, and of anxieties about wearing just the right clothing, scent and makeup on a day that is anything but chaste. Instead, B”H, I embrace a day elevating Am Yisrael’s wededness to Hashem, a holiday evoking unity among our people, a time when my family and friends’ levity, that is, our light-filled gratitude, color our collective recalling of being saved from extinction.
In a little less than two weeks, if you visit us and find our kitchen strewn with all manners of cookery, including both the caustic and the healthy types, if you espy us ringing doorbells, ice cream scoops, sprinkles, cucumbers and spinach salad in hand, if you see us embracing friends, albeit on the correct sides of our shul’s mechitzah, if you witness us distributing funds in a neighborhood where many people go hungry, and if you step up to our table empty, but walk away full, you’ll get the gist of our not-hearts-and-flowers-but-Purim.
Response to Readers:
First, Yonatan Frimer, per your kind reflection on “If It’s Thursday, It’s Almost Shabbat,” I’m letting the world know, by dint of this posting, that I’m a fan of your blog, “Designed to A-maze.” Maybe next time I’m in Tsfat to teach writing, we can get together for coffee and for “mutual admiration” (please email our editor for my private contact info)/ In all seriousness, “thinking out of the box” often means refusing to think along the lines of an epistemology that belongs to other folk, and embracing, instead, the system that is ours.
Second, per litvac 120’s comment on “Why the Sudden Interest,” welcome aboard! Please write in again.
Third, per Ralpoh’s remarks on “Why the Sudden Interest,” I’m not sure that all of this region’s nations can be grouped together as a homogeneous Middle East. For starts, Persians are not Arabs, though the two groups might share Islam. Nor are all Arabs Muslims; a significant minority is Christian. What’s more, the greater part of Israel’s population is Jewish by ethnicity and is Jewish in terms of religion. In addition, critical thinking and abiding by the strictures of one’s faith are not mutually exclusive. Governments have come and gone over the millennia, but Judaism is here for keeps.