Celebrating a coronavirus-inspired Purim - opinion

How best to enjoy the traditions as well as fulfill the commandments associated with Purim in this plague-filled year.

CHILDREN DRESSED in costumes arrive at school ahead of Purim, in Sderot, yesterday.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
CHILDREN DRESSED in costumes arrive at school ahead of Purim, in Sderot, yesterday.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
 No day in the Jewish calendar rivals the excitement and anticipation of Purim. Each year, for me anyway, the years just melt away as the day approaches and the wonderful memories of my “magic grogger” (which my uncle promised would destroy all of our enemies as well as obliterate the name of the evil Haman), freshly baked hamentashen and the Curly (of The Three Stooges fame) mask that I wore throughout the day again surface. 
The aches and pains brought about by late winter weather vanished from the joints of those who were part of the small synagogue my father and I attended, where an elderly man in the unique accent of Galitzianer Jewry brought the saga of Esther and Mordechai to life. And, oh yes, my sister and I competed to see who was more off key as we sung the Purim ditty “Haint is Purim” to whomever would listen.
This year, needless to say, the activities and festivities of Purim will likely be somewhat constrained, but that should in no way compromise the joy and gladness the festival invites. If anything, the modifications should enhance our appreciation of the day in spite of what is going on throughout the world.
Nonetheless, it’s worth giving some thought to what indeed can be expected in this plague-filled year and how best to enjoy the traditions as well as fulfill the commandments associated with Purim. Here are some examples.
• Megillah under the stars
Where the lockdown will be by the time Purim comes around is anybody’s guess, but for those like me, it makes little difference. It will be a while before I’ll be ready to enter into a proper synagogue, so I expect I’ll be hearing the Megillah in one of the street minyanim (prayer quorums) I attend during the week and on Shabbat. And I have no doubt that the thrilling epic of our pre-Gal Gadot Jewish Wonder Woman and her courageous effort to save her people will be no less exhilarating.
Personally, though, the Megillah, has always been something more. It was, and is, an annual reminder that there are Jewish communities throughout the world, and not all of them speak Yiddish or enjoy creamed pickled herring. Having grown up in a landlocked world of Ashkenazim, the story of how Persian Jewry was nearly obliterated brought home the sad fact that antisemitism recognizes no boundaries; a message that comes across loud and clear regardless of where it will be heard.
• Adloyada and costuming
Most local communities, I’m sure, will give a thumbs up to the Adloyada (“until one no longer knows”) parades and activities, to some extent anyway. There is little risk, really, particularly since the activities take part, more or less, outdoors. A bit of discipline to enforce social distancing may be necessary, but that’s a small price to pay to enable children (of all ages) to, well, strut their stuff.
It’s reasonable to assume that the scrubs and other attire worn by our medical front-liners will be honored as the costume of choice. Trouble is, lab coats and stethoscopes are not exactly new or novel as Purim fare; it might be more uplifting if something more imaginative and topical was adapted for the festival. In years past, both local and foreign leaders and politicians promised some creativity, but frankly, no one currently vying for position in our upcoming elections provides much inspiration. As for those beyond our shores, well, Mr. Trump dealt himself out of the game when he instigated the siege on the Capitol, and it’s too early to decide if a President Joe Biden costume requires the wings of an angel or the horns of a devil.
A sound choice, then, might be to portray Israel’s shining star in world class athletics, Deni Avdija of the NBA. A Washington Wizards uniform emblazoned with the number 9, a plastic basketball, and a simply styled wig is all it takes. The youngster, inspired by this honorific, just may wind up sinking more than his share of three-pointers.
So yes, those manning the corona wards and working overtime to get the vaccines into our bloodstreams deserve unbound accolades, but Purim is the time for smiling and amusement. Deni is a better fit.
For the last 20-something years, my family has been the guests of some very close friends in Beit Shemesh for the Purim feast. This year, I suspect, we’ll be taking a break. Or will we?
The pandemic was introduced just around Purim last year but did not really disrupt the festivities of the day. By the time Passover arrived, though, the virus was in full swing and family Seders were out of the question. In some cases, Zoom technology filled the gap, but only halfheartedly. Observant families were unable to take advantage of remote connections during the holiday, so they had to settle for some symbolic activities during the day. Even though grandparents, via hastily set up computer screens, smiled as they listened to their little ones reciting Mah Nishtana (“Why is this night different?”), shared insights about the text of the Haggadah, and brought the afternoon to a close with a rousing rendition of “Chad Gadya,” it was, well, not the same.
There are, however, no restrictions regarding the use of electricity on Purim, so a festive meal via Zoom, in real time, is not out of the question. And while the technology has not yet reached the point where the stir-fried vegetables can be passed between monitors, it does allow for the sharing of songs, stories and laughter.
Oddly, Zoom very well might have been called upon even if there was no pandemic since the Purim seuda this year takes place on Friday for most of Israel. The meal therefore needs to be held and completed relatively early in the day in order for those who are Shabbat observers to return home and prepare for the day of rest, making travel somewhat troublesome if not chancy. What could be more convenient than enjoying the day with family or friends and not have to fret about flat tires or traffic jams?
And not let’s overlook the advantage of being able to fulfill the requirement of not being able to tell the difference between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordechai” without worrying about making it home safely. I’ve often found that it’s the little things that mean the most.
A distant relative shared with our family his tale of how Purim was observed in the Mannheim concentration camp. Several individuals would take turns recounting what went on in Ahasuerus’s kingdom, stopping now and then to drown out the cursed name of Haman. Bits of potatoes were the mishloach manot that were exchanged between the camp’s inmates, each piece savored not for the taste but for what it represented. And then, despite the harsh, threatening environment in which they were trapped, they smiled and wished each other a freilichen Purim.
Which is my hope for all of Eretz Yisrael.
The author is a retired technical communicator currently assisting nonprofit associations in the preparation of grant submissions and struggling to master the ins and outs of social media.