Sunday, February 28, 2010

Purim Haters Anonymous

Lots of things make me happy. Watching waves crash on the shore. Feeling the sunshine on my cheek. Falling into a steady rhythm as I cut through the water at the swimming pool. Seeing my nephew break into a smile, as the wind up train I bought him chugs around plastic tracks. Sitting with friends at a café and catching up on each other's lives. Writing the last line of a chapter I'm pleased with. The feeling is so good I want to bottle it up, keep it forever.

Purim doesn't make me happy. Purim makes me sad.

When Adar rolls around, and loudspeakers burst out with "Mishenichnas Adar"s, inside me I want to run away, to somewhere where there are no Purims, or perhaps hide out at home, until the worst has passed.

When I try to speak of it, it sounds odd, peculiar, loner-like and spoilsport-ish. Who doesn't like Purim, the year's official day of happiness?

I used to like Purim, once. When I was a kid, and planned my costume all year. Probably in ninth and tenth grade too, although I don't really remember.

I don't know why I hate it, these days. I don't know why I dread it, and feel like a huge burden is lifted off my shoulders when it's over.

Maybe I can blame it on the year my father was diagnosed with Cancer. Returning to the classroom as Purim carnival preparations were in full swing, joining in, planning and cutting and pasting and dressing up, because I didn't think there was any other way.

Maybe it's the year he was ill at home, and someone came to read the Megillah to him there, as the party went on in Shul.

Maybe it's the year after he died, when we were all putting on brave faces for each other, and we dressed up as gypsies, and strangers in the street asked us to tell their fortunes, and everything was great, on the surface.

There's no real reason, for me to hate Purim. I spend the week before making lists and packing Mishloach Manot, sometimes even themed ones. Once the sun has set I usually scramble around and find a costume to wear to Shul, in the 'if you can't beat them, join them' spirit.

After all, I sat enraptured in Seminary, through the Rabbis' lessons on the deeper meaning of Purim, the light of the hidden miracle, deeper and more intimate than the more obvious battles of Chanukah. I soaked in the Rebbetzins' talks of Purim as a day of prayer, of asking for miracles. So I try to remember, to get into the spirit of the day. I tell myself that this Purim will be different.

Then the hordes of Yeshiva boys arrive, banging on our door, wanting to dance with the nonexistent men of the house, and hit them up for donations. The music blares outside. I know there are parties going on, men getting drunk, boys dancing. Everyone else is happy, and I need to be too.

Maybe if I could get drunk, like men do, I'd be happy. I tried that one year, at the Seudah, surreptitiously pouring 'just a sip' of Smirnoff into my glass, every few minutes. It didn't help much.

I just want it to be over. Want life to be solid and steady again. Want to find joy in the small things, the precious moments, the intimate and close. Not in this loudness, brashness, that feels somehow fake, and shallow, and artificial.

Last year was different, if only for a moment. A woman came to visit us, on her way to a Seudah nearby. A successful, sophisticated, put together woman. A divorcee, her children assimilated and intermarried. On the spur of the moment, without much thought, we gave her a small Mishloach Manot, the left-overs from other packages, wrapped up in cellophane and a ribbon.

She was so excited. It was the first Mishloach Manot she'd received all day, she said. She placed it on the back seat of her car, proudly. She waved as she drove off.

And I was happy.

Perhaps that's what Purim is really about?


  1. :-/

    I heard tonight - What is it about purim? What is this simcha? Why the jokes? Why the leytzanut? Why the drinking?

    If you think about it, the purim story is not so happy. I mean was life better for the jews after? Not really - still no beit hamikdash, - all that happened is that we were saved, but its like telling a person to dance because you pulled away the saw that was about to cut him while he was in jail. Yes, he's happy he wasn't cut, but HES STILL IN JAIL. And mordechai and ester. They were married. well not anymore.

    So why so happy?

    So the answer lies in the understanding of this happiness.

    Billy crystal once was asked, were you the class clown? He said NO!. I was the comedian. The class clown is the one who streaks naked across the football field. The comedian is the one who tells him to do it.

    By pesach, halacha says that you can drink more wine during the meal. Why? because when you're eating you won't fall asleep.

    But on purim we are told to do it ad dlo yada - and sleep? Why?

    Pesach - you're trying to remember - You're remembering the happiness of pesach.

    On purim, you're trying to deaden it - go to sleep - make it less "painful." On purim we are trying to forget about all the unpleasant parts of the purim story. Cover it up w/ superficial happiness, superficial jokes, ....

    But in truth, purim has a deeper happiness. Its the fact that even though theres all the sad aspects, we KNOW there is a future. The future of the jewish people is the real thing. The real true happiness. Although we "cover it up," we drink ourselves silly, we do it because we know IT WILL REALLY GO AWAY!

    The true happiness of mashiach will come.

    I hope these words of torah can offer you a tiny bit of consolation. You've been through a lot, and its not expected that things will get easier. If anything, they will only be more difficult. I'm not going to give you the typical "oh it will get better line."

    I give you a bracha that you receive true consolation - that regardless of what life throws at you, you will FEEL GOOD about it, because you will not be a slave to circumstances, but will instead see the good in everything. With that, may Hashem give you blessing such that even those who aren't looking for good will see it staring them in the face when they look at you, with wealth, health, and success, with your zivug bmehera :-)

  2. I'm not a big fan of purim the way it's commonly celebrated either. My reasons are a bit simpler though, I don't like to dance or get drunk in public.

  3. I can relate. However, living in a secular city where, unless you go on a long search, you only see half a dozen dressed-up kids, one adult with a funny hat, and two groups of Yeshiva boys, I find it quite tolerable. I think it's mostly an introvert thing: all this exuberant, extraverted, loud and demonstrative joy are terribly exhausting.

    I was to a small and intimate gathering in the shul's library for Megilla (women only), I am now sitting on my bad with my laptop, preparing to put the finishing touches on two mishloach manots - most of my friends don't live in my city, so I am not expected to send them everything.

    I might read about Purim deeper meaning in a little while...I will see my family in the Seuda...hear my brothers' stories...and that's that. I am having a quiet and very happy Purim. An introvert's Purim :-)

  4. Shikar is not the ikar
    The goal is for the soul,
    to experience the heiliger freiliger!


  5. Getting drunk is overrated. It sounds cool, but, mostly, it sucks.
    I don't think you should "force" yourself to be happy. It doesn't sound healthy to me. But, if you feel happy, don't feel guilty.

    I remember after my brother lost his daughter shortly before Simchas Torah. My father said, "I don't know how I can be happy this year".
    I remember the first Purim my mother was home after the car accident. An aunt said to her, "Some people will do anything to get out of Passover cleaning." (My aunt was trying to be funny and cheer my mother up.) After she left, my mother cried for the next half hour. Of course, she'd much rather be like everyone else and clean for Passover. The Purim meal was not very happy. Even with an extra ounce or two of wine.

  6. Once, Purim was celebrated in a dignified way in the confines of each home. Now inebriated children screech and holler in the streets, dodging cars, taking away from the dignity of Yon Tif.

    I'm not a fan of Purim either.

  7. I read your blog and had a feeling that you would write this.
    Purim is often a festival for the men, they get drunk, dance and have fun, the ladies cook the food, and put the mishloah manot together etc.

    BUT, women are obligated for megilla as they were in the miracle too.

    Next year, maybe you will find a party for girls (maybe zionist religious), we danced to music and it was real nice.

  8. I couldn't stand Purim in Israel either, but mostly because I found the public displays of leitzanus and drunkeness to be completely disgusting.

    But here in calm NYC, I like dressing up, thinking up a mishloach manos, visiting people, seeing their ideas, and then eating a lot.

    I don't recommend getting drunk. I've gone as far as tipsy and didn't enjoy it. I still don't get the appeal.