This weekend sees the start of the Jewish holiday of Purim.
You can read all about Purim at this link courtesy of Wikipedia.
For the purposes of this post, all you need to know at the moment is that Purim is a festive time when folks sometimes dress up in costumes (akin to Halloween). Also, the Book of Esther is read which tells of a tale when a dastardly gentleman named Haman (boo!) tried to kill all the Jews.
(Spoiler Alert: He doesn’t succeed.)
In my recent past, I have attended temples where the congregation puts on a show called a Purim spiel and where modern-day songs are rewritten to fit into the Purim theme. You have not lived until you have heard Beatles tunes remastered to tell the tale of good and brave Mordechai (yeah!). Some temples have sponsored carnivals where attendees can play midway-like games like Ring Toss on King Ahasuerus (gezundheit!).
In my not-recent past, my most memorable Purim celebration took place the spring after I became a Jewish adult.
This is that story.
It is March of 1982 and it has been almost five months since my Bar Mitzvah. As Purim rolls around, I surprise my parents by saying I would like to attend our temple’s Purim services. This event was not a festival or a Purim spiel or a carnival. I was asking to go to the temple and hear the rabbi and cantor read from the Book of Esther in the sanctuary itself. Coming off of my Bar Mitzvah, I felt the need to continue my Jewish education and I believed attendance at this service would be a good place to keep the ball rolling.
My mother took me to the temple on the appointed day (dressed in our finery) and we sat in the balcony of the sanctuary to have a sweeping view of the chaos below. Our temple’s place of worship has a large cavernous building (the description of a balcony was a giveaway, I hope) with an impressive stage that contained two lecterns for the rabbi and cantor and a large ark for the Torah.
The services were scheduled for 7pm and we had arrived early to secure seats up high. Down on the main floor, we saw hordes of children dressed up in all manner of costumes running around and making a ruckus that could have been heard miles away. That’s another part of the Purim tradition I should mention. There are these items called groggers that really should be classified under the Geneva Conventions. These are noisemakers of the like that cause eardrums to shatter and teeth to be set on edge. The mob of youngsters below were twirling their groggers to such an extent that I would swear the stained glass on the ark was vibrating.
The listed starting time came and went and still the din and cacophony from below swelled, crested, broke, and swelled anew. Parents weren’t even trying to rein in their kids as the little ones ran around, yelled, and twirled their noisemakers in what I had once assumed was a sacred space.
It wasn’t until twenty minutes after seven – and the noise showed no sign of lessening – that my mother and I noted that the rabbi and cantor were indeed on the stage. Not only were they both at the their respective lecterns, but they had the scrolls of honor on said lecterns. And not only were the scrolls that contained the Book of Esther in front of them, but we could see that they were reading aloud from them. Their lips were moving, but we couldn’t hear them because of all of the noise.
We had no idea how long they had been reading the story of Purim – they may have even started at 7pm for all we knew – but there they were now relating the story of how the Jews escaped genocide (again!) and we couldn’t hear a breath of it.
After about fifteen minutes of watching our temple’s leaders mouth the Purim tale, I looked at my mother and asked if we could go.
She understood and we left (and we heard the din all the way into the parking lot).
I had made the effort, but simply picked the wrong holiday to have my teen self attempt to continue my Jewish education.
That’s my story.
As an ending note, my mother suggested that we go out for ice cream before we went home. We wound up at Farrell’s. Of all the times I have been at this old timey ice cream parlor, this post-Purim visit was the quietest I have ever heard this place. If you know anything about Farrell’s, then that should give you an idea of just how noisy our temple was.
P.S. There were other attempts to keep the ball rolling on my Jewish education, but those are tales for another day.