Purim is a time of giving: Some memories to get by

Even in this depressing time we are living through, be happy – it’s Purim!

Making merry at a school Purim party in years past (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
Making merry at a school Purim party in years past
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
 It is hard to believe, but Purim this year marks exactly 50 years since we arrived on aliyah – it was March 12, 1971. 
I was still tearful from family, friends, culture, comfort – all the things we had left behind in Australia, probably the most reluctant olah ever to come here, desperately resisting until the last moment. The only way my husband had finally managed to get me on the plane was to insist our four children needed to know that they had their own homeland and their own people.
“We will just look around for a while,” he assured me, even though I didn’t believe it, especially as we were enrolled in an absorption center in Nazareth Illit and would be traveling there the next morning.
We went straight from the airport to a hotel in Tel Aviv. Our children, especially our two little girls – Elana and Tammy – were very excited to see miniature Queen Esthers, clowns, astronauts and cowboys, dancing down the streets to the sound of music. Of course, we had celebrated Purim in Melbourne, but always behind closed doors. Children had costumes to wear in school and kindergarten, but never in public in our gentile surroundings.
Purim is not a typical Jewish celebration. It is a holiday of masquerades, carnivals and spirits of the liquid kind (the Talmud decrees a Jew should drink “ad de’lo yada” – until he knows not the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed is Mordecai”).
I had to admit, after a few years in Jerusalem, that it was refreshing to share my children’s excitement at this holiday, as Purim came round.
Sadly, in those early years, it was not possible to buy costumes from a store – you had to create them, which was a nightmare for me, as I was totally inept at sewing and coming up with ideas.
My two girls remember that every year of their childhood at Purim they were dressed as gypsies. I would lend them all my jewelry – lots of necklaces, gold hoop earrings and a scarf around their hair, while their friends were dressed as nurses, Cleopatra, ballerinas, Queen Esther – all kinds of imaginative costumes that I couldn’t create. Since then, not one of their daughters or granddaughters has ever been a Purim gypsy!
When my granddaughter Shir was a little girl, her family was living at Kibbutz Yavne. I remember being there one Purim when it was a day of drenching rain. Shir was not willing to take off her dripping wet Queen Esther dress or forgo a ride on the carousel. My late husband bravely went on the ride with her, and it was a miracle that they didn’t end up with pneumonia.
This year I imagine Purim will be a more somber affair. Because of corona, large parties will be forbidden; probably the parades, Purim spiels and drinking will be discouraged, or at least much scaled down.
But the one thing we should remember is that Purim is a time of giving. We should not overlook “the sending of portions” (mishloah manot) – at least two portions of ready-prepared foods – to friends, as well as money to the poor. These portions usually consist of cookies, sweets, nuts, dried fruits and wine or grape juice.
The giving of charity is one of the most important precepts of Purim – the Bible, the codes and all our moralistic literature emphasize the need to care for the poor.
Purim, like every festival on the Jewish calendar, relates the triumphs and disasters of Israel throughout history. They are events whose meaning transcends the immediate incident. When we fulfill the mitzvah of giving charity, we express our feeling of compassion for those less fortunate. Purim is an uninhibited holiday with wonderful overtones of sharing and friendship. 
So even in this depressing time we are living through, be happy – it’s Purim!
The writer is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah. [email protected]