Purim: An Easy Holiday for Interfaith Families
As the Jewish half of an interfaith couple, I totally look forward to the Purim holiday. After all, Purim is sort of “Judaism Lite”, a holiday that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While other Jewish holidays require my peeps to fast, or refrain from eating bread, or pray for hours upon hours in order to remember past persecution, Purim’s motto is more Judaism-meets-fraternity-house, a la “Eat, drink, and be merry! For a couple thousands of years ago, some evil dude tried to get rid of us, but looky here! We survived! Woot! Woot! Down the hatch, bro!”
As a child, Purim was definitely my favorite holiday. I loved it even more than I loved Hannukah, even though it doesn’t involve eight nights of gift-getting. On Purim I got to see my serious, hard-working, stressed-out father get D-RUNK and act super silly (he is not a drinker by any stretch of the imagination, and he weighs about 30 pounds, so he’s a bit of a lightweight). You see, the whole aim of drinking on Purim is to get so loopy that you are no longer able to distinguish between your friend and your enemy (leave it to my peeps to turn drinking into a cerebral exercise). My father was known to achieve this goal with one drink :). I also thoroughly enjoyed dressing up in costume, parading around the synagogue, and goofing off without being told to quiet down or behave more maturely.
Now, I don’t ask my husband to accompany me to synagogue for any of the major Jewish holidays. Holiday services are generally very looooong, very serious, and recited in a language my husband doesn’t understand, so I don’t think he would GET MUCH out of participating. But Purim is a whole different ball o’ wax. Purim services are just about an hour long (requiring the same time commitment as an episode of ‘Top Chef’). Adults and children come dressed in silly costumes, which just adds to the fun-times factor. And even though the bulk of the reading is still in Hebrew, as a congregant you only REALLY need to know one word – “Hamman”, the name of the bloke that tried to persecute us back in the day. When his name is mentioned, all of the congregants are encouraged to boo, hiss, stomp their feet and twirl their noisemakers. Because Hamman’s name is mentioned fifty-four times, and with all the crazily costumed folk in attendance, the whole service ends up looking and sounding a lot like an Occupy Wall Street protest. Only much more fun.
At the synagogue we attend (where interfaith families are thankfully welcome), there are even more perks to Purim services. All congregants get a goody bag full of chocolate, fruit, and nuts at the beginning of the services. It’s a smart move, because as we all know, “Happy bellies, happy Jews”. The rabbi circles the congregation during the readings, giving out shots of whiskey (only to those of us “of age”, of course). By the end of services, the kids are running around on sugar highs, many of the adults are tipsy, and only a few people are REALLY paying attention to what is being said. My husband fits right in.
The first time I took my husband to Purim services, I warned him that it would in no way resemble any kind of Jewish service he had experienced in the past. Even with my forewarnings, I think he was a little shell-shocked by the experience, but pleasantly shell-shocked (if that’s oxymoronically possible)? Emmy was just a teeny baby, so she slept through most of the madness (though how she managed to sleep through the debauchery still dumbfounds me). This year, Emmy will be old enough to wear a costume (woo hoo! I LOVE dressing her up like a chicken), eat candy she really isn’t supposed to eat, and be an active participant in the festivities (she loves stomping, and booing, and making lots of noise). And I’m hoping that Purim becomes one of HER favorite childhood memories , and a family celebration that we will enjoy together for many many years to come.
Parenting with imagination. Or at least trying.