Purim. A story that features mass rape, including the fortunate(?!) rape of the one Jewish girl, named after the Mesopotamian goddess of sex, Ishtar. Her uncle, named after the Babylonian god Marduk, accomplish the great feat of almost saving the Jews. They get permission for the Jews to defend themselves from genocide. Big salvation. Let’s party. The only modern character in the book is Vashti (named after Avesta?) who defies the king’s command to debase herself in front of others — basically she does what you’d want your daughter to do — to say no to a creep. And, like a red-shirt wearing black man on a Star Trek expedition, she’s dead as soon as the story gets started. The story of the idiot king ends with (drum roll) the king remaining in power and imposing taxes. Party on.
Growing up, this holiday was the highlight of the year. We’d dress up, prepare ‘shalach monos, and sing borrowed Hungarian folk songs set to Hebrew words — thinking these were Purim songs. Shalach monos was fun. It’s when we got to drive around and go to all the houses of people who would never invite us over for a meal. We’d bring them food, and they’d give us something in return. I wanted to visit my friends’ houses, but my parents had us go visit all the shut-ins from the older section of town. They told me it was a mitzva to visit them. One old man would always give money — a collection of coins in a plastic case. Every year I’d get about 85 cents from this guy — which for some reason I thought was a lot of money. One guy would only give out a plate of peanuts. One old woman would always bake little cakes, and I’d get it only if I made a bracha out loud.
Mishloach Manot is not only found at Purim, the book of Nechemia mentions Bnei Yisrael would give food treats to celebrate Rosh Hashanna too. Something we stopped doing. I think we stopped doing it at Purim too. See, most communities don’t really do mishloach manot anymore. Instead, we have the Purim database where people sign up for other people to give bags for them. We have fundraisers where shuls raid Trader Joe’s for a bunch of junk food and create impersonal bags, delivered en masse by people you don’t know to people you probably don’t care about. That ugly word: reciprocity – give those people who gave me something — I don’t know who, or care. They will get some nuts, dried fruit, cookies, maybe a bottle of seltzer. And a list of names. Then the tzedaka cards — “Instead of giving you junk food that you don’t need, or home cooked food you would not eat since you don’t trust my kashrus, I gave money to a tzedaka I care about and thought about you.” Is this is what shalach manos is supposed to be? Oh and don’t get me started with the oh-so-cute themed shalach-manos. Blech.
Amit women took over Purim and the gays took over the St. Patty’s day parade. I plan to auction off my shalach manos on eBay — a protest. What a shame we lost the spirit of Purim. Hashivenu Hashem elecha venashuva venashuva chadesh yameinu kekedem. Give me that old-time religion, Hallelueh, good enough for me.
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