Tag Archives: #Purim

Purim Question: To Mask or Not to Mask

“We’re having a celebration for Purim,” the president of our synagogue announced excitedly at the end of a recent Friday Shabbat services on Zoom. “We’ll read the Megillah, watch some Purim music videos, and drink some wine. Can’t wait to see your costumes!”

From our end of the computer, Larry and I exchanged looks. I had already found a Purim song by the Maccabeats and a presentation by Mayim Bialik that made me happier than reading the whole Megillah. After months of avoiding baking except for of my weekly challahs, I had already decided that I would forget the diet and make hamantashen. But a costume? Maybe one of my numerous COVID masks. As to costumes, the jury is still out.

My first memory of a Purim costume came when I was getting ready for the Purim festival for our synagogue, Congregation Beth Shalom in Plattsburgh, New York, when I was about eleven years old. Along with the games and food, there would be the yearly prizes for best costume. My mother had helped me cut out a huge replica of the Ten Commandments pasteboard, and we put the Roman numeral numbers in thick marker. We created a beard out of black crepe paper.Once  I put on a robe and a shmata (piece of cloth) on my head, I thought I was the best Moses in the history of the world. I just knew I was going to win the best costume award.

Unfortunately, the adults judges did not agree. I don’t remember who won, but I remember it wasn’t me. Being the rational, calm child that I was, I had a melt down in the car on the 30 minute ride home and continued to carry on when we got home. When I look back, I realize that my costume certainly wasn’t original. In fact, every year parents had come up with the same idea. But I was crushed and swore off Purim costumes for twenty-two years. 

On March 18, 1973, however, a group of my friends decided to go to a Purim party sponsored by Albany Jewish Singles. Those of you who know me know what happened. Although I did not wear a costume into the party, I did change into a long, flowered dress for an impromptu Purim spiel (Yiddish for an informal theatrical production) that I, along with the six others in our assigned group, pulled together. I was Esther to a cute guy named Larry Shapiro’s Ahashuarus. He and I shared a hamantashen. By the end of the night, I knew that I would spend my life with him. As a friend with my camera captured at least a dozen pictures of the skit, we have a photo journal of those first minutes of our meeting. Meeting at a costume party on Purim was a wonderful way for Jews to meet. Over the years, however, I have often had to explain to my non-Jewish friends that Larry and I met at a PUR-im party, not a porn party.

Despite this very positive experience, it took 44 years for Larry and I to participate in another Purim event. A year after we moved into our active adult community in Florida, we were roped into performing in a Purim shpiel for the Shalom Club. Written and produced by long time members of the club, the story was irreverent, campy, and ridiculous.

 Larry, who served as the emcee, pushed his Prairie Home Companion theme. Announcing that the show was sponsored by the Hamantashen Council , who wants you to know“Hamantashen: It’s Not Just for Purim any more.” I played a Vanna White wannabe, strutting across the stage with posters held over my head announcing not only the number of the act but also when the audience was to boo for Haman and applaud for the heroes of the day.Other members of the social club played the more familiar roles—Esther, Ahashuarus, Mordechai, and Haman.

 We were so bad we were good. The audience loved us!

So why am I so against dressing up for Purim this year? First of all, we are having the celebration on Zoom, not at the synagogue. Do I want to put in all the time and effort to create a costume to wear in front of a computer?

More importantly, after wearing a mask on my face for the past twelve months, I find nothing exciting about purchasing a mask that does not provide COVID protection. We have built up quite a collection to get us through the pandemic. Larry usually goes for solids, but I prefer a statement. One mask proclaims in big letters,“Because I care about you and me; another is emblazoned with butterflies, my “totem.” My favorite is the one I purchased in memory of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that has her portrait and one of her iconic quotes, “Fight for the things you care about. 

If I wanted to get into the holiday spirit, Etsy the online company, offers a variety of Purim themed COVID masks, bearing pictures of hamantashen, masks, and Megillah scrolls. I can even invest in a personalized mask that proclaims even a “Quarantine Purim 2021. The Shapiro Family.” Another simply states, “This is my Purim costume.”

Next year, when we can hopefully celebrate without social distancing and without required masks, we may reconsider. This year, however, unless the president of our synagogue twists our arms a little, Larry and I will stick to the story, songs the hamantaschen, and maybe too much wine to fit into the holiday. Chag Sameach!

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York in the February 18, 2021, issue.

Mulling my Hebrew and Yiddishkeit…

As I now write for Jewish newspapers in both New York’s Capital District and Central Florida, my articles often include Hebrew and/or Yiddish words. Understanding that people may not be familiar with these languages, I have made a concerted effort to make sure that I defined those words in the context of the sentence. 

I thought I had done a good job until a friend told me that she had difficulty with some of the “Jewish” words in my first book, There Goes My Heart. She especially was puzzled by one of my food references. “You talked about your husband Larry enjoying a Jewish drink at an Upstate New York deli..something called a Fribble.” I smiled and ,explained a Fribble was extra thick milk shake, one of the specialties served at Friendly’s, a Massachusetts-based restaurant chain famous for its ice cream. Nothing Yiddish about it, unless you consider it as dairy, not meat!

What is Yiddish? Yiddish is the historical language of the Ashkenazi Jews. With roots dating back to the seventh century, it is a mixture of high German as well as Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic, and even Romance languages.I recently read an article in  The Forward that the Oxford English Dictionary has released its new words and phrases for this quarter, and no less than 71 are Jewish related. Some will make you cheer: Bialy, hanukkiah, and my favorite, Jewish penicillin. 

Some, however, will make you jeer. One of the controversial choices is a variation of Yid—Yiddo— which is defined as “fans of the British Tottenham Hotspurs soccer team.” Responding to debate, the dictionary’s compilers said they judge proposed additions by their significance, not whether they offend.In an interview on NPR, television writer Ivor Baddiel called the entry a “step backwards,” especially in light of the increased anti-Semitism in Europe. 

My own introduction to Yiddish came early in my life. My maternal grandparents, who immigrated from Russia circa 1900, spoke Yiddish in their home their entire lives. Their English was weak and heavily accented, and their chief source of news was Yiddish language paper, The Forward. My mother spoke fluent Yiddish when she was with her parents, especially when it provided a way for them to gossip about family and friends without worrying that we would understand. My grandmother called me her sheyn kleyn meydl  (pretty little girl), and we were all encouraged to Esn, esn meyn kinder.” After my grandparents passed away, my parents did not speak conversational Yiddish (My father didn’t speak it fluently), but they continued to intersperse their conversations with expressions from the Old Country Foolish people were schmendricks. When one wasn’t kvetching (complaining), they were knelling  (expressing delight) about their children. And we had to be careful about falling on our tuches (rear end) as we could hurt our keppie (head).

Larry and his siblings, had a similar experience as their maternal grandparents were also Russian immigrants.“Bubbie Rose and Zayde Moshie always spoke Yiddish—especially when they didn’t want me to know something,” recalled Larry’s older sister Anita. “When their friends came over  to play cards or Bubbie took me to play bingo, there was always Yiddish interspersed with the English.” There was always a Jewish newspaper in the home. Although Moshie passed away when Larry was young, he remembers Bubbie Rose and his parents speaking Yiddish to each other until her passing soon after we were married. As a result, Larry’s parents also peppered their speech with the same expressions my parents used. And even when Larry was in fifties, Larry’s mother Doris still called him her boychik.

With this background, I enjoyed using Yiddish to spice up my language, especially since many words in Yiddish cannot be replicated in English. The nuances were often expressed through jokes. One of my favorites is  one that defines chutzpah. Yes, it may mean “nerve,” but nothing catches all the layers than the old joke about the kid who killed his parents and then pleaded for mercy in court because he was an orphan. Another is the difference between a  schlemiel and schlimazel: The former is the one who drops his soup; the latter is the one on which it lands. Perfect!

Our  vocabulary and understanding improved after Leo Rosten published his classic, The Joys of Yiddish.  I knew few Jewish homes that didn’t have a copy of the instant classic on a bookshelf. My husband Larry kept a copy of it in his office desk to assist well-meaning co-workers who would use Yiddish terms incorrectly in their speech or writing.

I also love the beauty of Hebrew words, especially those associated with kindness and compassion.I have used Hebrew expressions Tikkun Olam, the principle of making the world a better place than when we received it, in public speeches, numerous articles, and even the title of my second book, Tikkun Olam: Stories of Repairing an Unkind World.  Meanwhile, I had learned my lesson and included a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew words. 

At times, it is not the written word that trips people up. It is the pronunciation. Recently, a group of us were talking about how we met our spouses. I shared how Larry and I met at a Purim party in Albany, New York. My contribution was met with dead silence, followed by the comment, “I can’t believe you told us this!” “What do you mean?” I asked. “You met a porn party?” they asked incredulously “Oh no, I responded, “It was a PURIM party!” After that, I always make sure that I say the name of the Jewish holiday v-e-r-y slowly and clearly!

Larry had no problem deciding that our grandchildren would call him Zayde. His father held that moniker, and Larry wanted to continue the tradition. The term Bubbie, however, reminded me of little old lady in an old-fashioned dress. With the help of my granddaughter, I became Gammy. But I tell her to watch her keppie, and I will kvetch when she asks me to schlepp too many things home when I pick her up from pre-school. And she will always be, like I was to my own grandmother, my sheyn kleyn meydl. 

As I was writing this article, my daughter-in-law went into labor. As the hours awaiting the news of the birth of our grandson passed excruciating slowly, Larry and I texted Sarah’s parents that waiting was tough !” Dave texted back, “I’m having schpilkes! [anxiety)” Thankfully, all went welll, and Adam called us at one a.m. our time to give us the wonderful news. The Nathans, who live near the new parents headed to the hospital the following day to meet who they called“our little boychik.” Life for us Yiddishkeits has come full circle.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York, in the March 18, 2020, issue.

SOURCES

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yiddish

https://www.npr.org/2020/02/16/806536059/-another-backwards-step-oxford-dictionary-expands-definition-of-yid

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!

Wrong Way Shapiro

Larry and I met at a Purim party forty-two years ago. He was King Ahasuerus to my Queen Esther. All in all, it has been a successful match and a successful marriage. However, Larry has told me that if he realized how directionally impaired I was when he first met me, he is not sure if he would have pursued the relationship. In other words, if his Queen Esther had had to find her way to the palace, King Ahasuerus still would have been married to Vashti.

Larry is one of those people who is endowed with the ability not only to follow directions perfectly but also to intuitively know what direction he should go when lost. I don’t know if he is part bloodhound, but he knows when to turn right, left, or whatever and get us where we are supposed to go.

I, on the other hand, can get lost going through a revolving door. It doesn’t matter where I am going, I need specific, detailed instructions, including street names, recognizable landmarks—the Walgreens on the corner; the elementary school on the right; a Target store on the left—and exact mileage between all of them. And I would still screw up.

You would think things would improve with the invention of the GPS. Initially even that failed me, as demonstrated by my first attempt to use to navigate my way to a business breakfast south of Albany. The machine kept rejected the address I typed in, so I simplified the address to just the name of the road. The directions down the expressways were excellent. When I turned on to River Road, however, an annoying female voice—whom I already named Mappie— chirped, “You have arrived at your destination.” I yelled at her, “No, Mappie! I am not there yet! You need to get me to the building” I was now lost and encountering another problem. If there was a speed limit posted on River Road, I couldn’t find it. I didn’t know if it was 30 or 55 miles per hour. I erred on the side of safety and kept my speed to around 30. A couple of cars got on my tail and passed me, and I just kept looking for the building.

Suddenly, I saw a policeman’s flashing lights behind me. I pulled over, rolled down my window, and asked the policeman if I was speeding. He said, ”No ma’am, you were going too slow. You are a road hazard.”

“I am so sorry, sir, but it’s not my fault,” I explained. “It’s the stupid GPS! Mappie told me that I that I arrived at my destination, but she was wrong!” Thankfully, he took pity on me. “Look, lady, your building is a mile down the road on the left,” he said. “I’m not going to give you a ticket this time, but next time, print out the directions from MapQuest before you get into your car.”

Fortunately, Larry the Scout has been the designated driver for most of our married life. He was perfectly happy to drive while I would sit in the passenger seat, either reading a book or sleeping. After we retired, Larry and I started taking longer car trip, and Larry decided to give me more responsibility. On the way to Arches National Park, Larry insisted that I take out the map and keep track of the routes. Wrong Way Shapiro, who actually got lost going to my own apartment, found map reading a joy. Not only would I follow the map, but I also would plug in the GPS and accompany the two with one or two guidebooks. I kept Larry up-to-date on our location as well as geographic trivia. “We’re heading into Fruita, Colorado,” I reported. “Population is 12,724; elevation 4511 feet. Town is famous for Mike the Headless Chicken.”

I have unfortunately been known to rely too heavily on the route suggested by Google Maps without considering alternative routes. On a trip to Florida, Larry and I were driving up the West Coast from Sarasota to Dunedin. Google map took us on I 75 and west on Route 60, which put us right in the heart of Tampa and its gridlock. Larry insisted that he had told me that we were take 75 ABOVE Tampa and head west on 580. I either never heard him or his memory was wrong. The argument in our car could be heard all the way back to Sarasota.

Larry decided the only way to avoid future arguments based on the best route was to call up the directions on Mapquest before we headed out. I would then trace them on an AAA map. We used this combination on one of our last visits in Florida from the East Coast to Naples. We successfully navigated our way from Vera Beach, over the top of Lake Okeechobee (even finding a quicker route on the map not suggested by Mapquest), and down I75 to Naples. We made our left hand turn off 75, pulled confidently into the targeted community, and pulled triumphantly into the driveway. Unfortunately the wrong driveway. I had gotten the street name correct, but had written down the wrong house number.

Oh well. At least I didn’t have to act as the navigator for our plane back to Albany.