Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Gantseh Megillah

Last night I took the boys to synagogue for the Purim Megilla Reading. My intention was to take them to the Mini Megillah service for tots, stay for about half an hour, then take my tired boys home to bed. My inlaws met me there, with the idea that they would stay for the full program. The Mini Megillah service included the Cantor telling the story of Purim, interspersed with related songs. This is a very festive holiday and many people dress up. We didn't as I have always felt (and Fillip agrees) that the costumes should be related to the story. I didn't get it together in time, so we went in regular clothes, armed with Purim tambourines for blotting out Haman's name. At one point, one of my mother-in-law's friends commented that she wasn't in costume. I told her she should have said she is a queen every day, and that would totally justify my being a princess! My kids seemed genuinely unimpressed with the Mini program, and certainly far from engaged. Things changed when at the end, the Cantor led all the kids into the main santuary. As soon as my boys saw that was where they were headed, they jumped right in line and took off, despite not knowing the people there. I figured they were in good hands, and took my time gathering my purse, jackets, etc...

The sanctuary was hopping! It was a raucous, hamisheh crowd, cheering and booing through the dramatic Megillah reading. When we found our seats, and eventually found the kids, it was Purim madness! Kids and grownups alike were all dressed up, and everytime Haman's name was said in the reading of the Megillah, the whole congregation would raise a racket with groggers, booing and hissing. There was a projector set up displaying the English and Hebrew text being read. Haman's name was in red and a pointer was used to show where the reader was, and that we were close to mentioning the villain. When it was read, the screen was changed to show a fire breathing dragon, or various other "evil" images (including Harry Potter, which made me laugh) so there was no doubt when to raise the roof.

One man had applied bloody fingers to his face as if a gruesome hand were bursting out of his head. Logan was fascinated with this, so I said to go ask the man about his makeup and pretend hand. I think it was too noisy for the man to hear Logan's questions, but I saw Logan stand there earnestly gesturing and pointing to his forehead, trying to figure out what it was. Even the Rabbi was dressed up, and made an announcement that he was dressed as a baseball player from the all-time greatest team, the Boston Red Sox. This was met by much booing and groggers.

One of the traditions of Purim is to drink so much you can't hear the difference between the evil Haman, and the hero Mordecai. Well, this was the first time I have even seen an open bar right there in the sanctuary! No, I'm not making that up. These are sacred rituals people, and it would be wrong for me to exaggerate. So, President Clinton (aka, maybe the Men's Club President) poured me a very stiff screwdriver, and made a Shirley Temple for the boys. With services like this, I don't know why more people aren't converting!

Once the Megillah reading was complete, the Cantor announced a loosely reenacted story of Purim, as a motown/disco musical show. It was really entertaining and at one point Hayden jumped off my lap into the aisle to bust a move. The kids loved the part where anyone in costume was invited to parade around the sanctuary amidst all this singing, drinking and revelry. It wasn't my kids' fault they didn't have costumes so I sent them off to join the parade, instructing them to go around, then come back. They did exactly that and since people were still going, in the spirit of Go Dog Go I said "Go around again!" They loved the freedom to move around and make lots and lots of noise.

Along with their Purim tambourines, I had bought them party "blowers." You know, those paper noise makers that uncurl when you blow them. There was one left and Logan decided that a little Cinderella about age 6 should have it. Among all the freilach meidelach, he clearly had his eye on her. While I admire his chutzpah, he needs to work on his game a bit. He kept shadowing her holding out the toy, but wasn't speaking up, or maybe it was just too noisy. She didn't even notice him at first (which I can't help but think guys will experience again and again!), and I finally got her attention for him. I told her he wanted to give her the blower and that he must think she is the prettiest princess. She looked a little creeped out, frankly and a the other maidel mit a klaidel said to me "but I'm pretty too!" OMG! Did I just quash the self-esteem of a 4 year old? I assured her over and over that yes, she was really beautiful. Unfortunately we only had one blower left. Good thing I could then turn back to my cocktail after my rough foray into the preschool singles scene.

A rabbi from my childhood was there, as he and his wife are members of this synagogue. It was bittersweet to see him, as he is looking very old these days, yet still so familiar. I later saw that he now uses a walker, but somehow retains the appearance of vitality with that strong booming voice, and hair that has refused to whiten all these years. My guess is that he is in his late 70's, but don't know for sure. I brought each of the boys over to say hello (and kvell a bit, of course!) The rabbi spontaneously put his hand on Logan's head and began reciting the Hebrew benediction. Logan just stared back intently. Frankly, it did sound a bit as if Rabbi G was off his rocker, but I knew what he was doing, and appreciated that special blessing that he probably recited over me many times as a little girl. After all, there will be limited opportunities for him to bless my children, and I will take them all. When he did that for Hayden, there was something about the way the rabbi kind of jutted out his chin. Hayden wasn't quite sure what was going on, so just leaned in and gave him a kiss!

Just as I could see the kids starting to lose interest, the program wrapped up. It was nice to let the boys run into the social hall while I gathered our things, feeling good about them being at home in a shul. Usually, they are required to sit still and quiet, despite being bored out of their minds by listening to a language they don't understand. Purim is such a great opportunity to have the kids get comfortable and excited about being at services. I did explain that most services require us to sit quietly, but that Purim is a special holiday where going to temple is like a big party. True to form, the Sisterhood passed out hamentaschen at the end, making me look like a great fortune teller for having mentioned this to the kids ahead of time. They each took the proffered raspberry treat (I saved apricot for myself), took a big bite, then looked at me as if all the saliva they had ever produced had been absorbed by that one bite. As Tevye says "Tradition!" Post-synagogue sweets have never been accused of being too moist.

My two tired boys excitedly chattered about Purim all the way home, and fell asleep within moments of hitting their pillows, visions of hamentaschen dancing in their heads. Happy Purim.

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