Flip Side: Why I hate Purim

This, after all, is Israel, the nudnik capital of the universe.

cry face 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
cry face 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The first time I recall actually celebrating Purim was in 1978, while attending the One-Year Program at the Hebrew University. I had been in the country for about eight or nine months by the time the holiday came around. Deciding to experience it to the fullest, I joined other overseas students on an outing organized for this very purpose. It was a bus trip up north - to Beit She'an, of all places, a venue selected so that we could witness the "Ad d'lo yada," development-town style. The event turned out to be, well, uneventful. As a friend of mine put it back then, "to watch a bunch of pot-bellied guys dressed in drag, we could have stayed in Jerusalem - or, better yet, in San Francisco." Rather than giving us a true taste of Judaism-meets-Zionism, the pathetic display caused us to convulse with laughter, more at ourselves for having schlepped there for nothing than at the participants in the parade, who were just doing what we're all supposed to do on Purim: get drunk and act like idiots. Unfortunately, the one thing missing was the alcohol, which made the ordeal even less festive than it already was. To make matters worse, it began to rain (as I subsequently learned it always does on Purim). This meant that we were not only forced to stand around observing men with mascara and rouge running down their stubbly faces before being allowed to reboard the bus, but to do so soaked and shivering. From there, it was downhill all the way. With each passing Purim, I grew more and more despondent. Having an aversion to wearing a costume - as well as the inability to bake hamentashen - will do that. Though, in those days, I did develop a method of faking it. This involved buying the cookies and dressing as myself. Which usually worked, until some zealous theme-party host or other attached strings to his invitation, in the form of a requirement that guests "come as" something or somebody specific. Avoiding Purim parties altogether - the best solution to the problem - would turn out to be a harder policy to implement than it was to adopt, however. This, after all, is Israel, the nudnik capital of the universe. IN ANY case, the real trauma surrounding the celebration of the Book of Esther was yet to come for me. And no amount of Jewish education or Israeli experience could have prepared me for just how painful it would be. Nor how humiliating. Becoming a parent is what did it. More precisely, having small children with big ideas - and lots of friends whose mothers and fathers had degrees in architecture and design. Now, I'm as sappy as the next person, and one of the best things about making aliya is raising children who never have to feel left out of holiday festivities reserved for Christians, or stand out like sore thumbs when engaging in their own. In this country, religious rituals and social norms are happily married - an advantage that is most visible on Purim. (Let's face it, people in the Diaspora wearing costumes on any day other than Halloween - or during Mardis Gras - look completely out of place.) This is why I am always amused and touched by the sight of scores of little boys in Harry Potter glasses and little girls in wedding gowns - magic wands in one hand and noisemakers in the other - wolfing down the sticky contents of mishlohei manot. That, however, is as far as my sympathy extends. To put it another way: There are certain lengths to which even a good Jew shouldn't have to go in order to perform a maternal mitzva. Especially if she stinks at arts-and-crafts. Which brings me to my worst encounter with Purim - the one that nearly had me missing the days when I envied girls in Easter bonnets. The year was 1988. The place - my son's kindergarten. The activity: a parent-child workshop. Upon arrival at the gan, we were instructed to assemble our own Purim costumes. The materials at our disposal were newspapers, scissors and staplers. Gleefully, all the imaginative, nimble-fingered adults in the room began snipping speedily away at old copies of Ma'ariv and Yediot, much to the delight of their offspring. I took one look at the materials provided for the task that was anyway well beyond my capabilities, and understood I was in big trouble. Stupid I'm not. "I want to be a pirate!" my son screeched, jumping up and down and shoving the tools into my hands. It should be noted here that it was early evening, when it's not only five-year-olds who tend to be at their crankiest. Under the present circumstances, neither of us stood a chance in hell. And hell it was. For my kid and me, at least. By the end of the "workshop," all the other children were bedecked in proper - recognizable - costumes - created as if off the cuff by their multi-talented parents. I think I'll skip a description of the fruits of my own labor. Suffice it to say that the word "pirate" would not befit it. Nor would "fiasco" do it justice. TWENTY YEARS later, with hundreds of similar, Purim-related tantrums and disappointments blessedly behind me, I am finally liberated. Free of all the fuss and the muss. Free of having to fork out a fortune of money to make up for what I lack in sewing skills. But, most of all, free to admit - nay, shout from the rooftops - that I hate Purim. [email protected]