Purim is one of my favorite holidays, hands down. This year's was ridiculously crazy, but it's still a love-love relationship.
Purim was Thursday night/Friday this year, but for once I was on the ball and started my preparations a few weeks in advance. One of the 4 special activities on Purim is Mishlo'ach Manot (Mah-note), food baskets that you deliver to friends and relatives. As I like to think of it, reverse Trick-or-Treating :-) I like to have a "concept" - like last year, when I painted flower pots and bought seed packets of special carrots that are short so they can grow in containers in NYC apartments. This year I wasn't that clever, I just found cute black pleather-y baskets at Joann's that will be perfect pen holders for people's desks. Wednesday night I ran out to Costco and found some chocolate and wafer bars, plus my mom picked up some grape juice and hamantashen (=a special triangular Purim cookie).
Side note on Hamantashen: the "traditional" fillings for hamantashen are apricot, raspberry, prune and mon, which is a poppy seed filling. Nobody likes prune. Almost everybody dislikes mon, except that it's my dad's and my favorite flavor (in case you're sending me mishlo'ach manot). So if you're out buying hamantashen: steer clear of black or dark brown filling, look for Red or Orange. Other acceptable fillings include chocolate and chocolate. That's it. Apple, pear, cherry, and blueberry are just wrong, and you shouldn't encourage them.
Where were we? Oh right, so Thursday I packed my 8 or so Mishloach Manot. Then it was time for the second special Purim activity, hearing Megillat Ester (I think goyim call it "The Book of Esther"??). We went to our shul's 7:50 Ma'ariv (=evening prayer service), and got great seats in the balcony to hear them read the Megillah. I wasn't sure about wearing my pirate costume to shul, but a lot of the women's section was in costume, ranging from a crazy wig to a full-out bee costume or hippie costume. The men were much tamer, they just wore hats.
Megillah reading takes about an hour. You're supposed to follow along in your own copy, in case you miss hearing a word. I like to read the same story once a year, because every year I notice new details and stuff. Or maybe it's the same ones year to year and I just forget?
I arranged to take Friday off work, so that I could deliver Mishlo'ach Manot and stop at my cousin E's house for the 3rd Purim activity, the Seudah (=special holiday meal). Purim is supposed to be a very happy holiday, that's why you bring people gifts of food, and eat a festive meal, and you're even supposed to drink alcohol. Hmm, work or enjoy one of my favorite holidays? It's a no-brainer.
I thought it was weird when I heard my brother still in the house around 8:30, since he usually catches an earlier train to work. At 8:45 he knocked on my door and told me that Grandma passed away very early Friday morning. No major episode, she just faded away like they thought she was going to 2 weeks earlier. We all just know that she stuck around to see D married off.
Mom had volunteered to deliver packages for a local charity fundraiser, so J and I went out to deliver those for her. We also delivered some Mishlo'ach Manot to family and friends in our neighborhood. Then I did a run to our relatives in Queens. Omg, I hadn't realized quite how many Jews lived in my grandparents' neighborhood! Every single house had people wearing costumes (of all ages, not just kids) either coming or going with packages. I wish I could've taken pictures. It made driving a nightmare though with so many cars either pulling in or out of spots, but I made it back home just fine.
We left for the cemetary in Jersey at 12, for a 1:30 funeral. Jewish funerals are supposed to happen within 24 hours of death, and it's always closed casket or whatever. Fridays are tricky because of Shabbat, so I think we could have waited until Sunday, but we went with Friday. Considering that my mom started calling people at 8:30 or so, there was a very surprising turnout. It was only grandma's immediate family because the cousins live 9+ hours driving away, but a lot of friends came and my mom's whole family, because our whole family is close.
My cousin Mia was the cutest thing. She's 11, and the oldest in her family, and whenever we see them I always give her and her siblings a big hello and a hug. Friday she came over and gave me a hug, and said everything would be okay. She lost her grandfather a few months ago, and it was really sweet that she wanted to pass on her vast experience to me.
It was a graveside funeral, the first time I'd ever been to one like that, and it was a really nice funeral. One word: Sunglasses.
Because of Purim eulogies were kept to a minimum, just grandma's 2 sons spoke. My uncle's was short and sweet. My dad gave very nice (and brief) talk about my grandma; he hates public speaking but he did really well. Our rabbi said some nice things about Grandma too, then a little d'var torah (=you might call it a sermon) and explained how things would be different because of the holiday. Then we did the shoveling thing. My uncle and cousins on my mom's side really pitched in to help. No surprise, they're very helpful people. Each of the grandkids, in age order, read a perek (=chapter) of Tehillim. Then we did the line-up-and-the-mourners-walk-through-the-path-of-friends thing, and it was over.
My Dad and Uncle are sitting shivah at my grandma's apartment since we all live in the same town and it's close to everyone. Our 2 families headed back there after the funeral. The shul has a committee to send bagels over for the first day, since the family is always busy with other things. Nobody had really eaten Friday so it was perfect. The first day of Shivah is usually just family, but some close friends stopped by. Then everybody went home, because you don't sit Shivah on Shabbat.
It's going to be very weird having Grandma's Yahrtzeit (=deathiversary) on Purim. It's one of the 2 holidays when you are supposed to rejoice and be happy, because the Jews were saved from certain destruction. More info here.
I'd made plans to go to my cousins in Queens for Shabbat and my dad insisted I keep them, so I went. I slept at my aunt & uncle's but Friday night dinner was at E's apartment, about a half mile away. E's wife (aka E3) is allergic to wheat so it was unusual food but yummy. Then E and E3 had all of us (his mom and siblings and me) over for lunch today. This afternoon E3 and Rif taught me how to play Set, my new favorite game. I started Dragon by Clive Cussler, but I think I might've read it already. It's hard to tell because a bunch of the stories are very similar.
Next episode: my Hooked on Exchanging biscornu exchange package.
PS Future exchangers, please include your email addresss so I can thank you properly!