(Farshtelt – Yiddish for “dressed up,” “disguised.”)
Purim – a time to dress up and pretend to be someone you’re not. Yup, this is my holiday now!
For a while, I tended to mark time by how many of any particular yom tov had passed since I left home.
The first Purim I wasn’t frum, barely anyone knew I wasn’t frum. I let my family assume I was spending Purim with friends on the Upper West Side (where I lived). It’s the kind of holiday where that’s believable and understandable.
In actuality, I waited until my roommates left for their Purim parties, turned off all the lights, and went to sleep for 26 hours… (okay, that’s a mild exaggeration).
Some non-Jewish friends suggested I embrace the spirit (haha) of the holiday and get drunk, even though I don’t believe in the historical accuracy of the Purim story or the religious ideology implicit in it.
But as a nice Jewish girl from semi-chassidish Boro Park, I was never supposed to get drunk. Purim was never about getting drunk for me, so doing it now, after I’d left, held absolutely no meaning for me.
By the second year, I was more sure of myself and what I wanted from life that I was more okay with the thought of going to my parents for the Purim seudah.
I taught in the morning, and handed out hamantaschen to my class – at Lehman College. No, they had no idea what hamantaschen are. A bit of multi-cultural education along with writing instruction! It was fun.
And then I hopped on the train and went to Boro Park.
I had worn a skirt and a long-sleeved shell under my sweater when I went to teach. I didn’t feel like dragging a change of clothes with me. So I was sort of in “Bais Yaakov maidel” mode all day.
The house was a cheerful flying mess when I got there, as expected.
The kitchen table was piled high with mishloach manos baskets on their way out and in. Some had been opened so people could start snacking on all the candy. The meat, soup, etc for the seudah later in the day were simmering on the stove.
One brother was just waking up with a tremendous hangover and groggily wandering out for a very late minyan. Another burst through the door singing “layehudim” at the top of his lungs, slightly tipsy and making the rounds with friends to collect money for their yeshiva.
I watched – amused, happy, slightly detached.
At some point, I snatched a huge floppy hat off my brother’s head and plopped it on my own. Someone wrapped some colorful scarves around the bottom of the crown, and I was set – my Purim costume.
My father came in about a half hour after I’d gotten there. He’s a baal koreh, and he used to visit some homebound people to lein the megillah for them. So he was always pretty late in getting home after shacharis, carrying his megillah rolled up in its case under his arm.
He sometimes leined again at home, because he wasn’t satisfied with the leining in shul, or because my mother hadn’t made it out to shul. This year, my mother had gone to shul in the morning for megillah.
But my father took me by the elbow and led me to the dining room table. “Come,” he said, “I’ll lein for you.”
I didn’t protest. What’s the harm? I could spend the next half hour sitting and listening to him lein, couldn’t I? And the niggun for the Purim megillah is actually quite nice.
My brother ran and got a megillah booklet for me to follow along in. I pushed the huge floppy hat back on my head so I could actually see the page…
My father unrolled his megillah and got set up.
“Nu,” he said, and motioned to the brachos at the front of my megillah booklet. He’d already said the brachos, of course, so he couldn’t repeat them. Since I was the one “benefiting” from this leining, I had to say the brachos.
So I did.
And we started. “Vayehi bimei Achashverosh..”
The rest of my family was still bustling around. They kept quiet when they came into the dining room, though.
My mother sat at the other end of the dining room table saying tehillim, my sisters wandered in and out of the kitchen, and one brother picked up my iPod and wandered around videoing everything. (I have that very long video still – it’s quite amusing.)
At some point, the hat slipped down in front of my face again, and I used it as cover. I was still following along with my finger as my father leined, but mechanically, not paying attention to the words. I let my thoughts wander while I enjoyed the megillah melody.
When Esther Hamalka is proclaimed queen, my father looked up and spread his arms out to me, raising his voice for the words “va’ye’ehav hamelech es Esther mi’kol ha’nashim,” as if proclaiming that this Esther (my old name) was queen and most beloved. It was a funny moment. It was a nice moment. Then we went back to Bigsan and Seresh, murder and mayhem.
That Purim was one of the few almost entirely uncomplicated yomim tovim I was able to spend with family. Maybe because phones are allowed, and I had mine on the table next to me. And because I didn’t have to hide that I’d been teaching in the morning.
And because no one ended up drunk-sobbing on my shoulder and apologizing for things I didn’t ask about like a few years before, because – oh, I don’t want to know what you think you need to apologize for!
The hilarity remained uncomplicatedly hilarious, no one tried to say any divrei torah – or if they did, there was enough hullabaloo that I could leave the table with no one noticing.
The next year Purim wasn’t as uncomplicated, but at least for one year, I had some fun on Purim.