My Purim trifecta

My Purim trifecta

Celebrating reluctantly but often in this new post-Oct. 7 world

The multigenerational Simcha band plays at Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair.
The multigenerational Simcha band plays at Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair.

Raise your hand if you were in the mood to celebrate Purim this year.

Surely, my hand would not go up. As a matter of fact, I was so anti-Purim that I felt like sitting on both my hands just to make a point.

So how did it happen that I celebrated the Festival of Lots not once, not twice, but three times?  I even started observing it early, in Philadelphia!

Since my 4-year-old grandson’s school vacation conflicted with the actual date of Purim, he would miss the holiday festivities at his local Philadelphia synagogue. That was totally unacceptable to Emily, his mom.  Micah already had a history with the holiday. At only a few months old, a onesie tuxedo with a velvet baton transformed him into an orchestra maestro.  When he was 1, as held by his parents, who were dressed as Johnny and Moira Rose, he was one of the kids in the popular TV show “Schitt’s Creek.”

Although Bubbie (that’s me!) can’t forget the 134 hostages and the Israeli families ravaged by the October 7 war, Emily was determined that Micah enjoy the holiday. It wasn’t his fault that the world is a crazy and dangerous place. So to accommodate his schedule, Purim arrived in Philadelphia on the 11th day of Adar II instead of on the 13th.

Let the planning commence!

Emily invited about 15 friends, some familiar with Purim but most of them newcomers to the holiday. Grandy (that’s Micah’s grandfather, Andy), Emily, Micah, and I had a dress rehearsal, fully taking advantage of her bag of costumes and wigs. We marched in a makeshift parade.  Who looked the funniest in the green wig?  That was a tough question! We danced and sang, filling the air with electricity that only a 4-year old can generate.

Merrill, in costume, reads the megillah

We made groggers filled with rice and lentils and decorated them haphazardly. Had Mordechai and Esther eaten the same chocolate cookies we baked in the shape of masks, groggers, and megillot?

The real test of our baking skills, however, came when we baked hamantaschen.  Instead of “water, water, everywhere” from Coleridge’s poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” I saw “flour, flour everywhere” — on the floor, on our clothes and in our hair.

Micah mixed and measured the ingredients with exuberance, spread the oily dough like a blanket on the kitchen counter, and then made perfect circles with the rim of a glass jar.  We then counted the filled triangles.  If you didn’t mind skipping the number “17,” we made 24 chocolate chip hamantaschen.

Were they as good as the “better than best” hamantaschen the old lady made in Naomi Howland’s picture book, which we practically had memorized? Absolutely!

Before you could say “mishenichnas Adar marbim b’simcha” (when Adar arrives we increase our joy), our “convenient” date for the holiday had also arrived, with pizza and guests. The newbies must have done their homework, because many came de rigueur in costume. For those who didn’t, Emily provided Mardi Gras beads and masks. Had Dave read the children’s book “Sweet Tamales for Purim” by Barbara Bietz? That’s highly unlikely, because he doesn’t have kids and isn’t Jewish. But he was dressed as a vaquero, just like one of the main characters in this delightful children’s Purim story.

Unbiased Bubbie would have given her grandson first prize in a costume contest. He wore the king’s regal robe, also known as a terrycloth tiger bathrobe with a belt, and balanced the royal crown over his tiger ears. Anyone lucky enough to be in the rhyming and short shpiel could grab a crown and sit on a throne, both homemade from silver insulation  material.

As Emily’s neighbor Hannah and I played Purim and klezmer music on the piano and clarinet, kids and adults accompanied us with drums, maracas, and tambourines. I couldn’t see the dancers, but I could feel the floor shake. It was a Purim sameach — a happy Purim — for all.

Years ago, Andy and little Emily, left, are with friends Debbie and Ira Polinsky and their baby.

I had 48 hours to recover from that early Purim celebration. That was just enough time to travel home to Montclair to celebrate my second Purim. By now, I was growing fond of my blond wig. I chanted Chapter 3 of the Megillah at “Prohibition Purim at the Shomrei Speakeasy,” Congregation Shomrei Emunah’s festive 1920s version of the holiday.  The Purim essentials were there — only Al Capone was missing from this elaborate party.

Ten hours later, I was ready for my third Purim celebration. I read the Megillah again and played in our multigenerational simcha band.  The smell of cotton candy and popcorn wafted through the sanctuary. In many ways, Purim 5784 felt quite normal.

But Purim 5784 was complicated.  Remember, I didn’t raise my hand to support celebrating the holiday this year.  “Killing,” “revenge,” and “destroy,” words common in the megillah, sounded too much like the daily news. I had enough of them. For example, Chapter 3, verse 13, says, “annihilate, murder and destroy all the Jews, young and old, children and women on the day of the 13th day of the 12th month which is the month of Adar and to plunder their possessions.” Ancient Shushan? I read this and I was on Kibbutz Be’eri and at the SuperNova Musical Festival on October 7, 2023.  I was getting ready to daven on Shemini Atzeret.

At 70 years old, I have quite a dossier of Purim memories. I remember Emily’s first Purim, 40 years ago in our Brooklyn synagogue.  Her father held her and unraveled a stream of cloth diapers with “Megillat Esther” written in crayon.  Another vivid memory is reading the megillah to my 88-year-old father in a nursing home, making him smile.

More recently, I remember Purim 2020, the last time our congregation gathered as a community before the pandemic changed our lives.  Then the Zoom Purim celebrations followed, trying to make the most of a new world.

Reflecting on my Purim trifecta this year, I am proud that my daughter opened her home and tweaked the Jewish calendar so that her son could experience Purim.  I am grateful to have played in our synagogue’s band, to have chanted the megillah trop, and to have eaten  hamantaschen filled with apricot jam and chocolate chips — not prune or poppy.

I am especially delighted that my Israeli cousins shared their joyous Purim celebration with me on WhatsApp.  They refused to allow Hamas to spoil the holiday.  My daughter and grandson and the family in Kfar Saba reminded me to embrace Chapter 8, verse 17: “There was happiness and joy for the Jews, a celebration and a holiday.”

Merrill Silver and her husband live in Montclair; she’s a freelance writer and teaches ESL at JVS of MetroWest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Hadassah magazine, the Forward, the New York Jewish Week, and other publications. Find her at

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