Purim, Passover pageantry has certainly changed

As you read this, I’m sure your mind is on Pesach coming. We all heard the Megillah being read aloud, and the name of Haman resoundingly drowned out; the graggers and flags have been packed away for next year, our treats distributed to friends and family, some money given to help those in lesser circumstances. On Purim, we’re commanded to listen and learn — eat and drink and be merry — give away some goodies — and open our wallets as well as those boxes and baskets of shalach manot goodies that we receive from others.
I love Passover, but of all our celebrations, Purim takes my memory back the farthest because it’s the most childlike. When else are little ones actually encouraged to make big noises in shul? I think it’s very special because it’s amazingly different from all the many other special times on our Jewish calendar.
When I was a child, things were different at Purim from what they are today. Not quieter or noisier, just different. Of course we dressed up, but we were always dressed as characters in the holiday story: girls would be Esther or Vashti; boys would be Mordecai or King Ahasuerus, or even the evil Haman. But somehow, Purim has morphed into the second coming of Halloween.
Two costumes, not from my childhood, but not so recent, either, will always remain in my mind. First, Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, appearing for his initial Purim at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas dressed in black from head to toe as Zorro — quite logical, of course, with that huge “Z” emblazoned across his chest. The second, a memory that still disturbs me: I was teaching at a classic Reform congregation when I spotted, among many costumes of many kinds, a young boy wearing a taliit and a kippah, with a black strap wound around his arm. “And who are you?” I asked him, expecting to hear the answer “Mordecai? But instead: “A Jew,” he said. “And what’s that?” I asked, lightly touching his leather binding. “A tourniquet,” he said.
So much for our educational success in passing on the essence of the holiday, let alone of Judaism…
The synagogue where I grew up was small, the sanctuary long and narrow, crowded with seats on both sides and the middle, allowing two slim aisles for our annual Purim parade.
Our flags weren’t paper with pictures as they are now; they were printed cloth, securely fastened to rounds of wood much more substantial than today’s Tinker Toy-type supports, and topped with pointed finials.
On these were placed cored apples, and into each went a good-sized candle – Shabbat candles, I would guess. And they were lit!
Then, lights out as we walked round and round, up one aisle and down the other, again and again. Oh, it was a glorious sight, and how our parents and grandparents beamed with pride! Of course, if any parents or grandparents aided and abetted children with such a fiery display today, they would be subject to charges of child endangerment. But that was a different time, in so many different ways…
And there was always a Purim shpiel, a silly little playlet very loosely based on the holiday story. Our parents and grandparents wrote and performed it. Looking back, I’m sure — from the adult laughter I still remember — that there was a lot of risqué material in those amateur productions that went right over our childish heads. When I saw a Christmas “pantomime” in London so many years later, I very quickly recognized what was going on, and I felt right at home.
Well, Z—, so much for nostalgia. Today’s children will have their own happy Purim memories. Someday they will recall hamantaschen filled with chocolate chips, while I remember poppy seeds. But that noisy blotting-out of Haman’s name: Ah, let’s give thanks that some things never change…
And now: back to getting ready for a Passover as memorable as Purim!

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