Purim has come and gone, but its memories are always with me, rich and fresh every year. That’s because of my dear Boubby the Philosopher, who made me a Jew…a real one, far more than just anyone born to Judaism by Jewish law alone.
Of course, my mother was a born Jew, oldest child of a dozen brought into the world by that amazing woman. However, those children never fully shared the old-world involvement in the Yiddish-speaking culture and traditional ways of Cneses Israel, the nearby small shul to which my Boubby actively pledged her Jewish allegiance. All were supporters, but not participants.
However, my Boubby was never fazed: “The first generation goes away,” she would say, “but the second comes back.” She was talking about the generations born in America, and she was so right about me that I always used her statement when I opened the many presentations I gave as part of a long-gone national program called “Panel of American Women.” Across the nation during the ‘60s, it made quartets available to tell their personal stories before interested groups; each speakers’ group featured a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew and a Black person. (I’ll tell more about this at another time, but for now, I’ll continue concentrating on Purim…)
Every year, Boubby would take two streetcars to get from her home to my family’s house on another side of the city. And then the two of us would walk together to the little shul where I — although my parents had no real involvement with it — was sent to Sunday school. In those days our Purim flags were cloth, topped by lit candles, but nobody sensed any danger as we marched around and around the long, narrow sanctuary, waving them enthusiastically. Then there was always a Purim spiel, a silly playlet of some kind, after which everyone left, munching on hamantaschen during the walk home. (Of course my Boubby had already spread “shaloch monos” throughout her own neighborhood and brought hamantaschen with her for our family.)
I have other wonderful memories of this wonderful woman, many of them having to do with her personal philanthropic work throughout our entire Jewish community. She was always much appreciated, but I never knew how very much until the afternoon of her funeral. That day, the procession from city to cemetery was routed past the little shul, where it stopped for a view of something never seen before (at least not there, maybe not anywhere, maybe never to be seen again): All the windows were opened wide, and outside the wide-open front door stood the synagogue’s elders, holding all their Torahs in silent tribute to a sort of Jewish saint. This, I later learned, is called “Opening the Synagogue,” a custom I had not even heard of before, and I’m certain I won’t ever see again. But I will certainly never forget it.
Today, one of those same Torahs “lives” here, in my own local congregation’s Ark, often leading the parades around the sanctuary on Shabbats and holidays — and of course, always on Purim.
My mother, as eldest child of the dozen, knew much of all the old customs, and impressed on me the rarity of this one. Well — maybe she made that up. Maybe no other place ever did this. I can never be sure about these things, but I can be sure that I’ll never see it again myself. Google doesn’t tell me anything about it, but if any of you know something more, please share it with me. I see it in my Mind’s Eye every Purim…