Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Purim Grinch

It's been an unusually grumpy sort of Purim this year. Sarah Smile blogged about Purim grumpiness. Orthomom made many important points about Purim's ugly or just annoying sides here, here, here, and here. I called an otherwise very frum friend on Tuesday, and she was so grumpy that she decided to skip out on megillah reading altogether. And one of the Jewlicious bloggers had every reason to be grumpy, but I can't link to his post because their site isn't coming up right now.

Luckily, I managed to evade any signs of drunkenness this year among my neighbors and acquaintances. On Tuesday evening (we in Jerusalem celebrate Purim a day later than most of the world) I attended the megillah reading and Purim spiel at Pardes, and it was all in good fun. The only alcohol was in a very clearly-labeled bowl of punch, which I noticed was not any more popular than the "virgin punch" on another table. The spiel was well done and managed to make fun of a lot of students and faculty members without being hurtful. On Wednesday, after megillah reading, I brought mishloach manot packages to the hairdresser and makolet owners around the corner, and to my dry cleaner, who were all very happy and loved my costume (I was decked out in my Shabbos robe from Monsey and wore a tiara and a scepter . . . as the Shabbos Queen . . . ). When I got home I found that I had received food packages from a couple of friends, including one with a whole coconut and instructions for opening it! How fun!

The two seudas I attended were similarly "clean." One was at the home of a friend, who kindly made a delicious buffet for about 30 guests- mostly singles. There was a little wine, but perhaps since almost all the guests were women, people generally limited themselves to about one glass or less. Then I went to my haredi relatives, and though they'd put out plenty of liquor, no one there was drunk either.

So what do I have to be grumpy about? In the grand scheme of things, very little. But all throughout the holiday were little annoying things . . . .

1. While the reading at Pardes was very nice, there were some women sitting around me talking the whole time. It was obvious that this was the first megillah reading they'd ever attended, and that they simply did not realize that it's very important to be silent during the megillah reading, since part of the mitzvah is to hear every single word. I couldn't be angry, since they obviously didn't know. But it was still very frustrating for me.

2. The reading at my Orthodox shule the next day was no better, because several women came with small children, and two of those children were whining or talking almost the whole time. One woman, in order to silence her child, started breast feeding in the middle of the megillah reading, right in shule. More about that some other time -- but at least the child was being quiet. The other woman allowed her son to talk at normal conversational pitch until they got up to Chapter 6. She then took him out to the hall, and returned with him about a chapter later, upon which he resumed his chatter. I happen to know this woman, and so my internal dialogue about the other, breast-feeding, woman ("Maybe she's a single mom . . . who can't afford a babysitter . . . and is really lonely . . . ") wouldn't work. I know she has a husband who is perfectly capable of watching the kids during an 11 am megillah reading. And I know she knows that we're supposed to hear every word.

Today I did an unscientific survey among my friends, and found that 100 percent of them knew that the reason shules have more than one Purim reading is so that parents can switch off babysitting the small children at home. And 100 percent of them also knew that, if you decide to take a risk and bring your child to megillah reading, and that child starts making noise, it is your responsibility to take your child out of the sanctuary. Period. I know it's upsetting to miss out on a mitzvah, but believe me, it's more upsetting for the rest of us for your kid to be making us miss out on a mitzvah.

Ugh!!!! If I'm going to be distracted during megillah reading, I wish it were by more cheery thoughts, rather than just by someone else's whiny child who clearly is too young to be brought to a megillah reading to begin with. Ugh!!!!!

3. I made "themed" mishloach manot packages this year, with a combination of foods that worked really well and in general made life really easy (and cheap) for me. Each bag contained a pita, a container of hummus, some Israeli salad, and a few falafel balls. Instant lunch! Some assembly required! And it only cost me about $2.50 per bag to put together! But I decided in the last minute to buy ready-made falafel balls from a stand, rather than deep-fry my own and risk burning myself (again). But, because I'd overslept and then found I didn't have enough cash, I had to do some running around, going to the bank, etc . . . and then didn't have enough time to bring mishloach manot to a specific family that I'd really wanted to see.

4. First purim seudah . . . very lovely atmosphere, very delicious food, very nice people . . . about 25 single women and 3 single men . . .

5. Second purim seudah . . . very nice relatives, plus another family and their many, many children . . . . about 15 kids under the age of 12 running around the three-bedroom apartment . . . it was very loud . . . and the other mom decided that 5 minutes after meeting me was a good time to ask me if I'm dating, and to tell me "comforting" stories about other "older" women she knew who had finally gotten married, although one of them had to "settle" for marrying an Israeli . . . uuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrgggggghhhhhh . . . .

5. And finally, the worst part . . . on the way home I had a huge argument with my Palestinian taxi driver. The ride started out nicely enough. Not knowing what ethnicity he is, I asked him what he was drinking, since it looked like it might be beer, and I was afraid that he was a Purim-minded Jew who was drinking on the job. Understanding why I was asking, he showed me that it was an energy drink, and said he's Muslim and never drinks alcohol. So we started talking about Purim, and about Islam, and about Judaism, and I found him to be very knowledgable and respectful, and at first there was peace on earth and love between men.

But then he kept talking . . . about how none of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about religion, and despite any evidence to the contrary among Muslims here or in Europe it has nothing at all to do with anti-Semitism . . . and in the 10 blocks before my house he said the following two sentences:

"What the Israelis don't understand is that the problem is the occupation. If they would end the occupation, there would be peace."

And, in response to a question from me asking for clarification:

"The occupation started in 1948."

I pointed out that what he's saying is that there cannot be peace as long as there is a Jewish state, and he tried to backtrack and say that everything will be alright if Israel retreats to the 1967 border, and that despite anything going on between Jews and Muslims in Europe, this is about politics, not religion, and that it must be about the occupation because before 1967, Jews and Arabs got along just fine.

Basically we sat outside my building yelling at each other for 10 full minutes before I paid him the 26.50 shekels on the meter and wished him a good night. Then I went inside and cried my eyes out, I was so frustrated and angry.

And that was my Purim.

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