“Chag Purim sameach!” is the traditional holiday greeting, but I prefer “Purim surprise!” It has more pizzazz and panache. It’s perfect for Purim.
For example, one surprise is who will wear the most outrageous costume at our synagogue’s celebration. Will it be the shyest kid or the older gentleman who glued a moustache on the anti-covid mask that he wears every Shabbat?
I am always surprised when I open my “costume” closet in the basement. Will a funny hat or scarf catch my eye, or will I need to scrounge around to find paper bags and poster boards (which, by the way, are the only materials I know how to work with)? When our children were little, we once dressed as the four-member Hamantaschen family, bedecked in paper bags: a sack of flour (with a face covered in flour), a measuring cup and spoon, the hand-written recipe, and finally, the hamantaschen.
If only I had saved some beloved costumes from Purim long ago. There was the time my husband and I dressed as two Rubik’s cubes — one solved, the other not. We graduated from paper bags to using big cartons and colorful poster board. Tailors we were not, but we knew enough to cut a hole for our heads and have a little room for our arms. What we didn’t anticipate is how a Rubik’s cube sits. Surprise! It doesn’t!
In 2020, moments before the pandemic was officially declared, we celebrated Purim at Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair with trepidation. Nonetheless, people would not allow fear of a mysterious virus to ruin their holiday tradition of wearing costumes. A 10-year-old Dr. Fauci drowned out Haman’s name, wearing a white lab coat, glasses, and a “Dr. Anthony Fauci” name tag. Unfortunately, what a surprise it was when Dr. Fauci became a household fixture for the next two years. Of course, the worst surprise of all was how the pandemic descended on the world and forever changed it.
Purim surprises also can be found in the kitchen. Always ready to embrace a new hamantaschen recipe, I never know what to expect. First of all, who will my helpers be? And what about the all-important filling? It has never been prune or poppy in my kitchen.
This year, I was fortunate to have my 3-year-old grandsons, my husband, and my daughter as bakers.
So would the batter frustrate us or would it be pliable and easy to work with?
The first batter was pliant and compliant. Isaac insisted we fill some of the hamantaschen with peanut butter, others with jelly. Then he had a Purim epiphany! Why not fill some with peanut butter AND jelly? Great idea!
I was surprised when he thought of making hamantaschen for his future sibling, the one he will meet in mid-April. He made a few tiny ones, some the size of commas.
The second batter was equally easy to work with, but Micah insisted that cocoa be an essential ingredient. What a surprise! We concocted a chocolate lover’s dream, chocolate dough bursting with a chocolate chip center. I lobbied for some peanut butter filling, too. Inspired by Isaac, I suggested a combination of chocolate chips and peanut butter. Delicious — no surprise there.
Since I had succeeded with two recipes, I bravely tried a third. Surprise! This third batter was a disaster. It stuck to everything like super glue. Even after hours of refrigeration, it was like a monster that adhered to my fingertips and to the counter. Not one to waste good ingredients, though, I salvaged it by making “monster” cookies. These monsters would never make it into a mishloach manot basket, but they filled our bellies and would be our little secret.
Another Purim surprise is the multigenerational band I organize to perform at our synagogue’s Megillah reading. There’s no surprise in our repertoire, since we play a classic Purim medley. But who will be in the pit and how many musicians will participate are always big questions. If we count children under 12, some years we make a minyan. Some years, there are more. The biggest surprise is how we will sound.
This year, after a three-year hiatus due to covid, we returned with 11 musicians, ranging in age from 7 to 70-plus. Our instruments were as small as the flute and as big as the piano and the bass fiddle. The quirky surprise was not only how many musicians volunteered, but how many were related to each other. Our conductor conducted her teenage son, a violinist. One of our trumpet players (who also is our synagogue’s shofar blower) played alongside her two sons — a 7-year-old saxophonist and a 10-year-old violinist. We may not be exactly like the Von Trapp Family, but with Sol and Jay — two 60ish brothers playing trumpet and saxophone — we all felt like a blended musical family.
However, my greatest Purim surprise this year came while reading Purim picture books to our grandsons. We read about cats and dogs, even a parrot, three little pigs, and a wolf, all celebrating the holiday. The onomatopoeia in “Sammy Spider’s First Purim” by Sylvia A. Rouss caught their attention, as did the mischievous goat in “Sweet Tamales for Purim” by Barbara Bietz.
My real surprise, though, was how Noah, in Susan Remick Topek’s “A Costume for Noah,” captured my imagination and made me cry with joy. Noah’s family, preoccupied with a new baby who is due at any moment, is not paying attention to him and his quest for an original costume. His friends have great costume ideas, but Noah does not. When he arrives late to school for the costume parade, however, he is beaming. He has a baby sister — and now he has the perfect costume. It’s a sweatshirt that says BIG BROTHER.
As I looked at 3-year-old Isaac — soon to be a big brother — and his father — my son — I was suddenly overcome with gratitude, wonder, and joy. Who knew that little Noah in a children’s story could be so powerful?
Isaac has another month to prepare for his new role in the family. It’s a big responsibility to be a big brother, but he will be ready. After all, he has already made the hamantaschen.
Merrill Silver and her husband live in Montclair; she’s a freelance writer and teaches ESL at JVS of MetroWest. Her work has in the New York Times, Hadassah magazine, the Forward, the New York Jewish Week, and other publications. Find her at merrillsilver.wordpress.com