By MARILYN SHAPIRO
“We’re having a celebration for Purim,” the president of my congregation announced excitedly at the end of a recent Friday Shabbat services on Zoom. “We’ll read the Megillah, watch some Purim music videos, and drink some wine. Can’t wait to see your costumes!”
From our end of the computer, Larry, my husband, and I exchanged looks. I had already found a Purim song by the Maccabeats and a presentation by Mayim Bialik that made me happier than reading the whole Megillah. After months of avoiding baking except for that of my weekly challahs, I had already decided that I would forget the diet and make hamantaschen. But a costume? Maybe one of my numerous COVID masks. As to costumes, the jury is still out.
My first memory of a Purim costume came when, as an 11-year old, I was getting ready for Congregation Beth Shalom in Plattsburgh, N.Y.’s Purim festival. Along with the games and food, there would be the yearly prizes for best costume. My mother had helped me cut out a huge replica of the Ten Commandments out of pasteboard, and we put Roman numeral numbers on it in thick marker. We created a beard out of black crepe paper. Once I put on a robe and a shmata (piece of cloth) on my head, I thought I was the best Moses in the history of the world.
I just knew I was going to win the prize for best costume.
Unfortunately, the adult judges did not agree. I don’t remember who won, but I remember that it wasn’t me. Being the rational, calm child that I was, I had a melt down in the car on the 30-minute ride home and continued carrying-on when we got home. When I look back, I realize that my costume certainly wasn’t original. In fact, every year parents had come up with the same idea. But I was crushed and swore off Purim costumes for 22 years.
On March 18, 1973, however, a group of my friends decided to go to a Purim party sponsored by the Albany Jewish Singles. Those of you who know me —know what happened. Although I did not wear a costume into the party, I did change into a long, flowered dress for an impromptu Purim spiel (Yiddish for an informal theatrical production) that I, along with the six others in our assigned group, pulled together. I was the Esther to a cute guy named Larry Shapiro’s Ahasuerus. He and I shared a hamantash. By the end of the night, I knew that I would spend my life with him. As a friend with my camera captured at least a dozen pictures of the skit, we have a photo journal of those first minutes of our meeting.
Meeting at a costume party on Purim was a wonderful way for Jews to meet. Over the years, however, I have often had to explain to my non-Jewish friends that Larry and I met at a PUR-im party, not a porn party.
Despite this very positive experience, it took 44 years for the two of us to participate in another Purim event. A year after we moved into our active adult community in Florida, we were roped into performing in a Purim shpiel for the Shalom Club. Written and produced by longtime members of the club, the story was irreverent, campy, and ridiculous.
Larry, who served as the emcee, pushed his Prairie Home Companion theme. Announcing that the show was sponsored by the Hamantaschen Council, who wants you to know “Hamantaschen: It’s Not Just For Purim Any More.” I played a Vanna White wannabe, strutting across the stage with posters held over my head announcing not only the number of the act, but also when the audience was to boo for Haman and applaud for the heroes of the day. Other members of the social club played the more familiar roles—Esther, Ahasuerus, Mordechai, and Haman.
We were so bad that we were good. The audience loved us!
So why am I so against dressing up for Purim this year? First of all, we are having the celebration on Zoom, not at the synagogue. Do I want to put in all the time and effort to create a costume to wear in front of a computer?
More importantly, after wearing a mask on my face for the past 12 months, I find nothing exciting about purchasing a mask that does not provide COVID protection. We have built up quite a collection to get us through the pandemic. Larry usually goes for solids, but I prefer a statement. One mask proclaims in big letters, “Because I care about you and me; another is emblazoned with butterflies, my “totem.” My favorite is the one I purchased in memory of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that has her portrait and one of her iconic quotes, “Fight for the things you care about.”
If I wanted to get into the holiday spirit, Etsy an online company, offers a variety of Purim-themed COVID masks, bearing pictures of hamantaschen, masks, and Megillah scrolls. I can even invest in a personalized mask that proclaims even a “Quarantine Purim 2021. The Shapiro Family.” Another simply states, “This is my Purim costume.”
Next year, when we can hopefully celebrate without social distancing and without required masks, we may reconsider. So, unless the president our congregation twists our arms a little, Larry and I will stick to the story, songs, the hamantaschen, and maybe too much wine as we get into the holiday spirit.
Marilyn Shapiro, formerly of Clifton Park, is now a resident of Kissimmee, Fla. A second compilation of her articles printed in The Jewish World has been published. Tikkun Olam now joins There Goes My Heart. Shapiro’s blog is theregoesmyheart.me.