I visited my sister at her college dorm room in San Francisco over spring break. On Tuesday morning, we awoke in her twin XL bed with a picture of her wearing a funny hat and holding an alcoholic beverage staring down at us. She wiped her eyes, dutifully checked her Facebook wall posts and said to me, ‘Happy Purim.’
How could I forget it was Jewish Halloween? If I can remember kindergarten Sunday school at my synagogue correctly, Purim celebrates a queen named Esther who married a man named something like Heman, Hymen or H&M. He hated Jews and wanted to kill them all (how original), but Esther, a brave and shrewd queen, convinced him not to because she was Jewish or her uncle was Jewish. Someone was Jewish. Anyway, no one died except Herman, I think, and he was stoned. Stoned to death, I mean.
But the story isn’t the point; the point is that when this tale is told, usually by puppets or a man in a colorful scarf, we Jews listening get to scream ‘boo’ at this Hamlet guy’s name, and ‘yay’ at Esther’s name. There is also pot banging and groggers involved. It’s the only Jewish holiday I know of with fun audience participation.
Plus, traditional Purim food is these amazing jam-filled triangle cookies called Hamantaschen, which probably means ‘everyone else’s food sucks’ in our secret Jewish language. Last year I went into Shaw’s and saw a tray of day-old homemade ones on sale. I didn’t have any money, nor did I feel I needed to pay considering the pain and suffering of my people under Hambone’s wrath, so I ate the entire box while still in the store. It was a low point and a high point at the same time.
Despite my extensive knowledge about Jewish holidays, I don’t know why Jews dress up in costumes on Purim, but they do. In fact, Jewish holidays are so strange that my temple would even inexplicably have a gigantic carnival in celebration of the event. Come to think of it, it was just a bunch of food. But I specifically remember there being a way to win goldfish or more of those triangle cookies. I think it was all a way of saying, ‘Hey, we’re fun, too!’
I have happy memories of Jew-Halloween, but when my sister said ‘Happy Purim’ to me I had nothing but scorn and anger toward her. You see, at my synagogue, a ‘Purim Princess’ was selected among the girls aged 16 that year. Since 16-year-old Jew girls typically look like apes or painfully un-exotic Frida Khalo’s, the girl chosen is usually the most Aryan looking because her facial hair was always the lightest.
My little sister was somehow blessed with blue eyes and a nice personality, so she was chosen to be princess when she was 16. I was not. At 16, I was more concerned with finding princes than being an actual princess, and I think one thing you need to be a real princess is innocence.
I take a lot of pride in being better than my sister in every other possible way, but here is where she has me beat. She got to participate in the most important of all the half-assed Jewish holidays as the princess. She got to hold a scepter and rule over the kingdom of the Temple Beth Or lawn. She will always be able to use that against me. I’m smarter than you. Oh yeah? Well I’m a princess. You don’t know how to spell simple words. Oh yeah? I’m Jewish royalty. Mom likes me more. Well, the rabbi likes me more. Instant win, every time.
At this point you may say, ‘Sarah bat Shlomo, you are missing the true meaning of Purim.’ Well my gentile friend, I have long since given up on finding any Jewish holiday meaning that goes beyond ‘remembering suffering’ and stuffing my face with knish.
I could tell that my sister counted the days until Purim every year so she could take out a photo of herself in a crown surrounded by little boys in yarmulkes and sigh, thinking of how happy she is that her innocence and beauty were appreciated when they were in their prime.
True to the Jewish holiday tradition outlined above, when I think of Purim I am reminded of the suffering my little sister has put me through, and then I go into Shaw’s and stuff my face with geometric cookies. Perhaps one day I will find a scepter and a people of my own to rule. I will call them the chosen people, and we will have holidays that commemorate the greatness of leaders like me, and there will be delicious treats and debauchery for all, even those with a hair lip. Hmm. Maybe Esther and I were more alike than I thought. I should have been that princess.