Category Archives: Purim

Who Made the Hamantaschen?

 

DSC_0037One of the nicest parts of our community in Florida is our diversity. Often, while I am working out in my exercise class or enjoying a concert or eating in our small bistro, I am struck by the number of people from all cultures, ethnicities, and countries that live here. An example of our melting pot was seen in the Shapiro’s Who-Made-the-Hamantashen Tale.

In May 2016, my husband Larry and I purchased tickets for a Flores de Mayo celebration that was being sponsored by our community’s Filipino Club. I had met several of its members through my cardio ballroom dancing class, and they had hyped up the event for several weeks before the May event. “Lots of fun! Great music,” one of the organizers told me. “Just bring a dish to share with your table.”

Although not familiar with Flores de Mayo, I knew of Cinco de Mayo, the Hispanic celebration held every year on May 5 that involved food and colorful costumes. We bought the tickets and made arrangements to sit with our friends Farida and Abdul whom we first met at a cocktail party for new residents of our fifty-five plus community.

Farida and I reconnected at the cardio ballroom class and struck up a friendship. She mentioned casually that she was involved in ballet when she lived in Egypt. One day, she shared a picture on her iPhone—a stunning portrait of her as Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Faridah was not just a dancer, she was a prima ballerina for an Egyptian ballet company. “Faridah,” I commented,” you are a ballet dancer like Billy Joel is a piano player!”  Not only was she involved in dance. Her daughter-in-law, a beautiful, vibrant Hispanic woman, taught the class.

I put the event on our calendar for the date in May and tucked the tickets away until I grabbed them on our way out the door that evening. When we arrived at the venue where the event was being held, the lobby filled with women in elaborate Filipino costumes and men in suits. For a moment I thought I was at a formal ball, not a Flores de Mayo program. When we entered the ballroom, we breathed a sigh of relief. Everyone in the audience was dressed in Florida casual—tropical shirts and shorts for men; capris or skirts and nice tops for the women.

We rushed to claim our two seats just as the formal program began. Filipino couples  began filing into the room, each group behind a large icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. No, Flores de Mayo was obviously not related to the Hispanic holiday. Adapting quickly, we sat back and enjoyed the pageantry, the costumes, and the musical and dance entertainment that followed.

I later learned that Flores de Mayo is held each May to celebrate the finding of the True Cross in 320 C.E by Helena of Constantinople and her son Constantine the Great, emperor of the Roman Empire. The Santacruzan, which we had observed, is the ritual pageant held on the last day of religious Catholic celebration.

Once the program was over, we were able to say hello to our table mates. What struck me immediately was the diversity represented not only in the room but at our own table. Larry and I were enjoying a Filipino celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Velma, our next door neighbor who was African American; our friends who had emigrated from Egypt and whose son was married to our Hispanic cardio ballroom instructor; and our down-the street-neighbor Nancy, whose last name spoke clearly to her husband’s Polish ancestry. We all unwrapped our “potluck” snack items: my hummus and chips; Velma’s fruit platter; Farida and Mohammed’s dukkah, a popular Egyptian dip made up of herbs, nuts and spices; and Nancy’s hamantashen.

Hamantashen??

“Nancy,” I asked. “Did you make the hamantashen?”

“Yes,” she said. “An old family favorite.”

“I didn’t know you were Jewish,” I said.

“I’m not,” she said. “My mother got the recipe from her German neighbor.”

“And she was Jewish?”

“No,” Nancy said. “She was Christian like us. She told my it was an old Russian recipe.”

So here were Larry and I, two Jews, at a table celebrating a Filipino Catholic holiday with an African American, two Muslims whose grandchildren were half Hispanic, and a Christian who made the best hamantashen I had ever eaten. Who knew?

The following March, I was in Colorado doing baby sitting duty for my granddaughter during Purim. Larry called me to tell me that someone had dropped off a plate of hamantashen. He didn’t recognize the woman, so I asked him to describe her.

“She is a woman about your age and your height with grey hair,” he said.

“That describes half the women in our community,” I said. “Maybe it was someone from the Shalom Club.” I listed a number of names with no success.

It wasn’t until I returned that I realized who had dropped off the hamantashen. While getting ready for my cardio ballroom class that was being taught by the Hispanic daughter-in-law of my Muslim friend, I spotted Nancy lining up in the back of the room.

“Nancy, did you bring hamantashen over to Larry last week?” I asked.

“Yes,” Nancy said. “I don’t think Larry recognized me.”

“No, he didn’t,” I said. “But he loved them and even saved some for me. How did you know it was Purim?”

“What’s Purim?”

It didn’t matter. Nancy’s hamantashen, no matter what her background, are the best. And her hamantashen will be served in our home this Purim. Chag Samaech!

From Pizza Boy to Pizza Rabbi

My husband Larry and I missed the Pizza Boy’s bris.

Diane Silverman, the future Pizza Boy’s mom, and I met in 1977. The two of us, along with several new members, sat together at a event sponsored by Clifton Park Hadassah. Within a year, all the women around the table were expecting. Our son Adam was born in April; the Silverman’s daughter Erica came one month later. By the time the eight children were walking, the Hadassah Baby Boom mothers formed a weekly playgroup, one of us baby sat while the other moms got a break.

“Three years apart” must have been the Hadassah mantra, because six of us delivered our second child in 1981.Diane and Mark’s son arrived on March 11. Eight days later, while Todd Harris Silverman was ongoing his rite of passage into Judaism, I was having a planned caesarian-section. Obviously, Larry and I couldn’t be at their simcha. Therefore, Diane and Mark announced the birth of our daughter Julie Rose—to the large group of mutual friends.

As did our two older children, Julie and Todd grew up together. They were in the same playgroup (Hadassah Baby Boom Two), and the same nursery school class. When I went back to work, Diane watched Julie before school. It was Diane who put Julie, along with Todd, on the bus the first day of school as I was teaching my first class.

Julie and Todd were close—maybe too close! At the end of first grade, their teacher recommended the two friends be in separate classes as “Julie was leading Todd around by the nose.”

Todd was a frequent guest at our house, and he loved his pizza. Larry nicknamed him “Pizza Boy,” a moniker that stuck with him for a long time.

By this time, both of our families had joined Congregation Beth Shalom, and we parents shared responsibilities for the children’s religious school carpools.We even were each other’s helping families at their bar/bat mitzvahs.

Early in his religious education, Todd felt the strength and pull of his Jewish roots. Growing up in kosher home, Todd lived in a family that actively participated in Judaism through holidays, simchayots, and synagogue membership. Additionally, he felt surrounded by fellow Jews. “You might be hard pressed to find another kid in Upstate New York who felt like the majority of his family’s friends were Jewish,” Todd said. He realized at a young age that being “a part and parcel of the Jewish community” was important to him.

After his bar mitzvah, Todd joined Temple Gates of Heaven’s North American Federation of Temple Youth’s (NFTY) chapter. He attended summer camp for three of his four high school years at Kutz Camp, the Reform Movement’s youth leadership academy.In 1997, Todd participated in a five-week NFTY-sponsored trip to Israel. He came back bronze-skinned, twenty-five pounds lighter and his eyes opened to Israel.

His religious faith was tested in college. As a theater major at State University of New York at Oswego, Todd found few opportunities for participation in Judaism. Furthermore, the death of three people close to him—an accident, an illness, a suicide—made him seriously question what direction his life would go.

In his last year of college, help came from his NFTY connections. Todd reconnected with a fellow camper from the Kutz Camp, who invited Todd to be on staff at a summer camp in Malibu, California.

Immediately after completing bachelor’s degree in theater, Todd  headed to the West Coast. After the summer camp experience, he found a job as an elementary school teacher at Brawerman Elementary School in West Los Angeles. His experience at the Jewish day school helped confirm his the lifelong belief  that he needed to serve the Jewish people. As Todd admitted, his vision was a “romanticized version of spiritual leader, pastoral guide, educator, and keeper of the stories and traditions.”

In 2011, Todd enrolled in the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. As part of his seminary training, he  lived for eleven  months in Israel, learning the language, the customs, and the politics of the Middle East. He returned to Los Angeles, where he spent another five years immersed in history, liturgy, counseling education, pedagogical instruction — everything a series of internships and student pulpits could provide.  

Upon his ordination in 2015,Todd learned of a rabbinical position opening in New Orleans, Louisiana.  His initial reaction: “There are Jews in New Orleans?”  Through the interviewing process, however, Todd learned that the Touro Synagogue, one of the oldest Jewish congregations outside the original thirteen  colonies, had a large and active membership. He felt an instant connection to both the shul and the city.

In July, 2015, he accepted  the position as assistant rabbi and  rabbinic director of lifelong learning. Along with life-cycle events and liturgical duties, Todd oversees the synagogue’s  religious school and Hebrew program and youth group activities.

Todd also continues to teach classes, including courses in .Pirkei Avot and rabbinic literature (Midrash, Mishna and Talmud). One of his favorite duties is teaching each semester a four-part  cooking class called,“In the Kitchen With Rabbi Silverman.”  Session topics have included recipes for challah, Jewish soups, Chanukah latkes and sufganiyot  (donuts); and a Middle Eastern dish of eggs poached in a cumin-infused sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions. “I love shuksuka almost as I love pizza,” said Todd

“I preach and I teach and I learn and I walk to work when it’s not 100 degrees with 110% humidity,” said Todd. “And I love every second of it.”

March 11 is Rabbi Todd Harris Silverman’s thirty-sixth birthday, That evening, he  will celebrate the holiday of Purim. He will  help lead a service, join.his fellow congregants as they twirl their groggers, and eat the traditional cookie, hamantashen. Our former Pizza Boy has grown up to become the Pizza Rabbi. I, for one, can not be prouder of him!!

Some enchanted evening….

2014-02-20 Purim 2 300 reolution

I am a true believer in love at first sight. It happened to me at on March 18, 1973.

The Jewish Singles group in Albany was having a Purim party at Herbie’s Restaurant in Albany. A group of my girlfriends was going, and it seemed like a fun way to spend a Sunday evening. The notice recommended costumes, and I dragged along a long flowered dress I had purchased in New York City eight months before.

The event was taking place on the banquet room on the second floor of the restaurant. When I got to the top of the stairs, one of the organizers handed me a pink slip of paper. “It’s for skits we’re doing,” he explained. “You’re assigned to the pink group.” I thanked him and scanned the room for my friends, who had arrived separately.

As I looked for them, I noticed a man standing across the room. I don’t know what it was about him, but I immediately felt an attraction. Like the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from South Pacific, I felt as if that stranger across that crowded room was destined to be in my future. I noticed that he was holding a blue strip of paper.

When I located my friends, I noticed that Debbie had a blue strip. “Debbie, change colors with me.”

“Why?” she said.

“I don’t have time to explain,” I said. “Just trade with me.” She complied, and I changed into my “costume” and waited for instructions.

Steve, the party organizer, soon told us to find our groups by color and to plan a short skit with a Purim theme. The ‘blue slip’ group got together. We made quick introductions, and I formally met Larry Shapiro. The five of us decided to do a dating game, with the three women playing Queen Vashti, a gum snapping trollop, and Queen Esther. Larry was chosen to play King Ahasuerus, and the remaining member of our group played the host. The other groups also quickly arranged their skits, and each one performed. I had been taking pictures of the groups. Just before our group was “on,” I asked Debbie to take a couple of pictures. The skit— as corny and as silly as the rest of the ones performed —went well. The king, played by Larry, chose the lovely Esther, played by me.

Forty years later, I am not sure if what followed was part chance, but I am sure that I had a hand in making sure of the outcome. After the last of the groups performed, Larry said, “Well, since I ‘won’ you in the Dating Game, would you like to share a hamantashen with me?”

That probably was one of the corniest pick-up lines in history, but it worked. Of course, by that point, I was willing to fall for anything he was going to offer. Over an apricot hamantashen and some punch, Larry and I got to know a little about each other. He had never been to a Jewish singles event before. He and a friend were playing chess that afternoon and decided on a whim to head down from Saratoga Springs to Albany for the night. I learned about his background: he had gone to undergraduate college in Boston and had just completed his master’s degree at Syracuse University. While looking for a job, he was working at his parents’ store in Schuylerville and living with them in Saratoga Springs.

What impressed me was how much we had in common. Both of us had grown up in fairly small towns and belonged to small synagogues. Both of our parents operated small, family run department stores in upstate New York. Both of us were one of four children, with the same birth order: a girl, a boy, a girl (coincidentally both named Marilyn), and an unexpected girl a few years later. The more we talked, the more I was smitten with his warm smile, his intelligence, and his pleasant demeanor. My first impression was correct: I knew I wanted to see him again. However, he didn’t seem to be getting any closer to asking for my phone number. My devious mind started working again. I had noticed that there was a sign-up sheet for a Jewish Singles event at the beginning of May. Although I knew that I would be visiting my parents in upstate New York that weekend, I put down my contact information in bold letters. Hopefully, he would take the bait.

As the evening drew to a close, Larry and I said our goodbyes, and I reconnected with my friends. Debbie gave me back my camera, and I was surprised to see that she had taken ten pictures of our Dating Game skit. “Why did you take so many?” I asked. “I don’t know. I just kept snapping away,” she explained.

The next night, I called my mother. “Last night I met the man I am going to marry,” I announced.

I filled her in on the Purim party, and she asked, “Did this man ask you out?”

“Not yet,” I said.

“So he asked for your number?”

“No, not exactly,” I said. “But I put it on a sign-up sheet for another event, and he will call.”

My mother was not as confident as I was. But,sure enough, the next night, Larry called to ask me out to a movie for the following weekend. The sign-up ruse had worked! We saw Man of La Mancha at the Hellman, and then we went to Friendly’s restaurant for a chocolate Fribble for Larry and a hot fudge sundae with vanilla ice cream for me.

The rest, as it is said, was history. We dated over the next few months, Larry proposed to me on our walk home from Rosh Hashanah services on September 28, and we announced it to our families after Yom Kippur was over on October 6. The road to the wedding was not as smooth as the first six months of our relationship, but that is another story.

And those pictures Debbie had snapped? When I developed the Kodak roll a month later, I realized she had captured the hour Larry and I first met. In my favorite, I am sitting in a chair with the other potential wives of Ahasuerus looking up at my future husband with stars in my eyes.

In this day of dating websites, social networking, and speed dating, it is a little embarrassing to relate our own meet-up. Larry’s reaction is always the same. “You’re not telling that story again! It’s too dorky!”

He’s right. But I know that ‘dorky’ meeting, with its blue slips of paper, the long flowered dress (which I kept in my closet for thirty-six years), and apricot hamantashen was B’Shert, meant to be. And as Larry and I work our way through our fifth decade of marriage, that tale of that enchanted evening will always be one of my favorite love stories.