There’s nothing like a holiday where one is required to be happy to bring out the grouch in all of us. But we should all be excited to greet Purim. Not only because of the beautiful miracle that occurred, the lessons of emunah and the role of the Jewish woman that Megillas Esther teaches us, but also because it’s the only twenty-four hour holiday that we celebrate here in Chutz L’Aretz, and it has merely four mitzvot! How simple is that?
Megillah reading is first. What’s great about this mitzvah is that it doesn’t require a minyan and most shuls have multiple readings both at night and in the morning. Many men read the megillah for their families at home. For mothers of young children who can’t be trusted to stay quiet for the thirty-forty minutes megilla reading requires, even with the help of snacks and toys, the best solution is for parents to stagger megilla readings. Then, one can watch the little ones while the other can concentrate on the beautiful words of the megillah.
If your kids are calm enough to come to shul, they’ll want to go in costume. Many people suggest buying costumes after Halloween, but I haven’t found much success there. The costumes are either too expensive or inappropriate. I personally prefer a closeout store like Amazing Savings, where you can choose from a large selection for under $10 apiece. I buy gender-neutral costumes that my kids can pass down to one another. It’s important to go early though, as they tend to run out of sizes closer to the holiday. There are also wonderful gemachim with a large inventory of costumes for every age and the suggested donations go to tzedakah. The phone number for one costume gemach in Flatbush is 718-989-2275. Again, the earlier you go, the larger the selection you’ll have to choose from.
The first megillah reading breaks the Fast of Esther. Don’t forget in the entire hullabaloo to have something satiating to eat for when everyone comes home.
Once all the adults have refreshed themselves, we can move onto the next mitzvah: preparing mishloach manot, or as is the honored tradition in my corner of Brooklyn, the males go collecting.
If you are one of those esteemed souls whom are bombarded by singing, dancing, costumed men, then I salute you, and I’m sure you have done this enough times to know how to prepare in advance. If your husband or son will be one of those singing, dancing, costumed men, then insist on knowing who the designated driver is before the night begins, preferably your loved one.
Regardless of the traditions you follow, we are all obligated to give tzedakah. On one of your many trips on the avenue, stop off at the bank during teller hours and pick up a wad of singles or rolls of coins so that you won’t be in the position of having to turn anyone away. Some banks in heavily Jewish communities have Sunday hours and will sometimes allow you to break a couple of twenties regardless of whether or not you have an account there.
Prepare a full, balanced breakfast for the family on the morning of Purim. It’s most likely going to be the only healthy meal of the day. Whole-wheat pancakes, eggs, lox and bagels, and Israeli salad are all good options.
Now that those issues are settled, let’s turn to what tends to be the most stressful and over-rated aspect of Purim: mishloach manot. I won’t bother reminding you that each person is only obligated to give two packages with two items. I’ll just remind you that all your hard work will be ignored as soon as the basket is absorbed on the already overwhelmed dining room table of your carefully selected recipient. Instead, here is what I plan on doing. Feel free to copy at will, no recognition necessary: Out-of-town relatives and friends – I send out cards from a charity. For about five dollars or less, they will send a cute card to anyone in America or Israel telling them that you gave matonos l’evyonim in their name. They can usually include a personal message on your behalf.
Teachers and the administration of your children’s schools – If the PTA at your school arranges mishloach manot for the staff, by all means, take advantage of it. They do a great job and the more money they get from parents, the more beautiful and practical the package will be.
Colleagues and rabbis – What’s inside doesn’t really matter. A nice bag or container is all you need to make a statement. Place a wine or grape juice bottle, a pineapple and a package of chocolate or cookies and consider it done.
Female friends – Amongst all the nosh and craziness, few people have time to sit down to a balanced meal. I’m pretty sure I’m not speaking for myself when I say that the best mishloach manot is healthy food. I still remember those thoughtful friends who sent breakfasts, lunches, challot, and kugels. Those items were usually finished in the car. This year I plan on sending a homemade pie and a drink. It’s important to label the items with all the ingredients and hashgochot to avoid any awkwardness. Another idea is tuna on a bagel with a salad and coffee. I guarantee all your friends will pledge their eternal devotion to you after that!