I wasn’t dreaming of a white Purim, but that’s what we got. Saturday night, Shabbat went out, and I shoveled out our car in raver pants that were bigger and bulkier than a dress and a three-piece paisley suit. This was the kind of Purim costume that was the essence of last-minute decision-making: every weird object in your wardrobe thrown out onto the beds, picked over and jigsawed together into a more-or-less coherent outfit. My wife dressed as a pregnant flapper — only half of it needed a costume. Our daughter was the easiest: we threw wings on her and called her a fairy. Mine was the trickiest of all our costumes, and took the longest time to get ready. A nice change from the usual going-out routine of me being the first dressed.
But here I was, shoveling away at the Brooklyn snow, making the design of my paisley suit more and more colourful by the moment. (I was dressed as, depending upon who was asking, either a pimp, a bootlegger, or one of my wife’s accessories.) Itta came out, saw the car still three-quarters shoveled in after half an hour, and decided we’d never get there. So we called a cab.
We were an hour late, but the advantage of going to an event thrown by Jews is that everyone else is 90 minutes late. We ran in just as the crowd was starting to move away from the snack table and get pumped up for the megillah reading…despite the fact that you’re not actually supposed to eat until after you hear megillah. But I’m just one of those anal folks. Seriously, in forty-nine years I’m going to be one of those 80-year-old men at the back of the synagogue complaining about everyone else. Tonight, I just shut up and enjoyed the show.
When you’re doing an actual megillah reading — in Hebrew, that is, and without a break to explain the action — it’s hard to have adults and children in the same room. Kids (especially kids that don’t know Hebrew) are not going to follow the rapid-fire delivery. Many adults won’t, either. As a potential cure, I’ve seen puppet shows and simultaneous storytelling.
I have to say, this was the first year I’ve seen a PowerPoint presentation in synagogue on Purim — or any other day, for that matter. But, as PowerPoints go, this one was damn impressive. Achashverosh was played by Jabba the Hutt, and Haman, questionably, was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Mordechai was Dumbledore. Nice.) This was all the work of JLA Online, an LA-based collective, unsurprisingly.
Last year, my in-laws gave me an actual megillah. I don’t eat animals and have some issues with using a parchment scroll, but I’ve decided to try and ignore that. For this year, at least. And, for the most part, it worked. I mean, as far as several-thousand-year-old stories go, it’s a doozy. Fast-moving, plotted with an expert sense of narrative (I realized for the first time this year just how cinematic the megillah is, introducing the story with the character of Vashti, and then alternating between the story of Mordechai catching the king’s would-be assassins with Haman’s growing menace.) Even the vocabulary is made for performance — intentionally simple, with lots of repetitions and mentioning the characters by name over and over again.
So I followed the story. Even though the reading moved with breakneck speed, I let myself get swallowed up. I stopped paying attention to my daughter alternately trying to wreck her wings and to repair them, and to the boys throwing Cheez Stix in the front, and to the rest of the world and even to how much my tied-up beard was annoying me. I just sat. Usually, I reserve this level of blacking-out-the-rest-of-the-world for praying, reading, and brushing my daughter’s teeth when she really doesn’t want me to. But tonight, I belonged to the story. And it was good.
A day later, I’m wondering whether this isn’t part of the Purim mystique. We’re commanded to get to the point where ad d’lo yada, where we don’t know the difference between Haman and Mordechai. Usually this is interpreted as drinking. This year, since 4 shots before noon barely left me buzzed — I built up my drinking resilience in Australia — and since my parents were around and I needed to be responsible, I opted for Option B: the midafternoon nap. But really, I think what the rabbis wanted when they issued that commandment was for us to get to the point where we completely lose ourselves. Like Esther lost her sense of self when she went to the king, not caring whether she’d be sentenced to death. When we lose our senses of self in G*d. And when we lose ourselves in stories…or even, this year, in snow.
Pronounced: muh-GILL-uh, Origin: Hebrew, meaning “scroll,” it is usually used to refer to the scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther, also known as the Book of Esther), a book of the Bible traditionally read twice during the holiday of Purim. Slang: a long and tedious story or explanation.
Pronounced: PUR-im, the Feast of Lots, Origin: Hebrew, a joyous holiday that recounts the saving of the Jews from a threatened massacre during the Persian period.