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Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Final Purim Joke (This appeared in the Lakewood Voice)

For over twenty five years our family resided in Ramot, which was then Jerusalem's northernmost neighborhood. Built on a hilltop opposite Shmuel Hanavi's grave, it was, at least in its early years, more like a small clannish West Bank settlement than part of the sprawling Jerusalem urban metropolis. Separated from the rest of the city by a wide valley and a tree covered hill, Ramot was definitely "remote."

Teddy Kollek, then mayor of Jerusalem, planned Ramot as a bastion of secularism and "progressive" Judaism, where orthodox Jews would never feel welcome, and the only synagogues would be either conservative or reform. Instead, thanks to an amazing instance of hashgacha pratis, Ramot, with its many yeshivos, shuls, kollels and Bais Yaakovs, has turned into a center of Torah-true Yiddishkeit.

How did this come about? In the late '70s, award winning avant-garde architect Tzvi Hecker, designed a housing development consisting of "a cluster of prefabricated, hexagonal units that were stacked in a manner that made for intriguing geometries."  On a hilltop next to the newly created Ramot enclave (which in those days consisted of only eight or nine huge apartment buildings) the Housing Ministry constructed what appeared to be two sets of gigantic upside-down egg cartons. The apartments were put on the market – but not a single one was sold. With their sloping walls and strange-shaped rooms, they were considered unlivable.

The government was left with an enormous "white elephant": over three hundred apartments that no one would dare to live in! That's when the tzedaka organization, Kollel Polin, came into the picture. Acting as a go-between between the government and the Chareidi public, they sold the apartments to homeless Israelis and new immigrants at substantially less than market price. People were thrilled to have a roof over their heads. So even if the walls leaked (and some rooms had five leaky walls), the neighbors were nice and everyone assumed that with time everything would be straightened out (in more ways than one) – which it was.

We were one of the first families to move into the Ramot Polin egg boxes. We quickly became used to tour busses regularly stopping outside our front door to observe the paradox of old-fashioned looking Chareidi Jews living in ultra-modern, avant-garde apartment buildings. I even considered opening up a lemonade stand to make some extra money. Dusting the walls became part of our erev Shabbos cleaning routine, and we were consoled by the knowledge that when the going got really tough, we could always climb the walls! And the children loved sliding down them.

So what does all this have to do with Purim? When Ramot was founded in the mid-seventies, the Israeli Rabbinate ruled that Ramot celebrated Shushan Purim like the rest of Yerushalayim. The year we moved in, a few idealistic Yeshivaleit shlepped a group of prominent rabbis from the Eidah Chareidis to see for themselves just how "remote" Ramot really was. The psak was almost unanimous: Ramot was too remote to be considered part of Yerushalayim, therefore Purim was to be celebrated on the fourteenth, rather than the fifteenth, of Adar.

I will never forget that first erev Purim. Exhausted from the taanis, I took the challahs that I had prepared for Shalach manos out of the oven and collapsed on the sofa to catch a quick nap before breaking the fast and beginning the bedtime routine. I could hear a loudspeaker announce something outside, but I was too tired to pay attention. Suddenly, my two older boys burst into the house and, dancing ecstatically around my bed, sang, "Mommy! Tonight's Purim! Tonight's Purim! Yeah!"

I smiled indulgently. "Yes, darlings, you wish tonight was Purim, but it's not. Tomorrow night is Purim. You'll have to be patient and wait another day."

But they were not so easily deterred. "No, Mommy," they continued insistently (why couldn't they just be quiet and let me get a few minutes sleep?). "Tonight really is Purim!"

"That's right. It would be nice if tonight was Purim, but it's not," I mumbled through half-closed eyes. "Purim begins tomorrow night. Now please go outside to play with your friends so I can get a little rest…"

Instead of going outside to play, they laughed hysterically and continued, "Mommy, Purim really is tonight. A freilichen Purim! A freilichen Purim! The Rabbonim ruled that Purim is begins tonight, not tomorrow night! A freilichen Purim!" With that they started dancing around the living room.

I quickly rushed outside to see if the news report was accurate (this was before we had telephones for instant communication)! It was; Purim would begin in less than an hour and a half! But I still had to finish sewing the costumes and I hadn't even thought about cooking the Purim Seuda!

Since there was a difference of opinion among the Rabbonim (after all, as I wrote before the psak was not unanimous), the neighborhood was divided into two groups: those who celebrated Purim on the fourteenth of Adar, like Yidden everywhere, and those who celebrated Purim on the fifteenth of Adar, like the Yidden of Jerusalem. That first year some people were so worked up over which day was the real Purim that there were more than a few fistfights!

Our family celebrated Purim on the fourteenth of Adar. But then, just to be sure that we were yotzei all opinions, we would send one Shaloch Manos, gave Matonos L'avyonim to two poor people and listened to the Megillah (without a bracha) on the fifteenth of Adar. Later, when Ramot grew and was (almost) connected to the city, the majority of Rabbonim ruled that Ramot was part of Jerusalem and therefore should celebrate Shushan Purim. But since a few Rabbonim ruled that Ramot was not part of Jerusalem and therefore Purim should be celebrated on the fourteenth of Adar, we continued to read the Megillah without making a bracha, send one Shaloch Manos, and give Matanos L'avyonim on the fourteenth of Adar in addition to the fifteenth of Adar. (And now that I've explained the gantzeh Megillah, let me continue…)

It was all very confusing; one never knew who you'd insult by giving a Shaloch Manos on the wrong day, and by the time Purim was over, after hearing the Megillah four times, many women could easily recite it by heart!

We purchased our present apartment, located in central Jerusalem, last winter. But we were only able to move in after Pesach. So last Purim, as my husband finished reciting the Megillah for the eighth time (four times in shul and four times at home) he sighed, "Baruch Hashem, next year we'll be celebrating only one day of Purim."

Instead -- a mentch tracht un d'Aiberster lacht  -- we ended up with a Purim Meshulash, three days of Purim! That's the way the Hamantashen crumbles.

Purim Meshulash

What three day Yom Tov was celebrated this year in Jerusalem and Sousa, Iran (formerly known as Shushan, Persia), but not in Lakewood New Jersey or San Francisco, California? If you guessed Purim Meshulash, you deserve a stale Hamantashen straight from the freezer! I don't know how freilich it was for the Yehudim (if there are any) in Shushan this year, but for those of us living in Yerushalayim it was an experience that left its mark – especially on my walls and windows.

Purim Meshulash is not a holiday commemorating the three corners of the Hamantashen. But to explain why every few years the Yidden of Yerushalayim celebrate three days of Purim instead of one, I'll begin my telling you the gantzeh Megillah, or at least part of it:

"On the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and they rested on the fourteenth day and made it a day of feasting and rejoicing.  And the Jews of Shushan gathered on the thirteenth and fourteenth [of Adar], and rested on the fifteenth and made it a day of feasting and rejoicing. Thus the prazi Jews, those who live in unwalled cities, make the fourteenth day of the month of Adar a holiday, a day of feasting, rejoicing and sending portions of food one to another" (Esther 4:17-19).

The Yehudim living in Shushan were given an additional day to destroy Amalek, therefore they celebrated their victory-over-evil a day later than the Yehudim living outside of Shushan. Since Shushan was a walled city, the Yidden living in walled cities celebrate Purim on the fifteenth of Adar, like the Yehudim of Shushan, while the Yidden living in unwalled cities celebrate Purim on the fourteenth of Adar, like the prazi Jews mentioned in the Megillah. That's the reason why, while Yidden throughout the world are rushing to listen to the Megillah, give money to avyonim, deliver Shaloch Manos and eat a Purim Seuda (all in one day!) those of us privileged to reside in Yerushalayim are tranquilly putting the final touches on their Shaloch Manos and defrosting the fish for the Purim Seuda. And while the Yidden living in Yerushalayim are getting tipsy and singing various versions of "ad shelo yedah," Yidden throughout the world are busy cleaning chocolate stains from the wallpaper and trying to figure out how to get rid of seventy-five homemade cakes before Pesach.

So now that we understand why Jerusalem celebrates Purim a day later than the rest of the world, we can understand why, every few years, Jerusalem celebrates a three-day Purim.
When Purim d'prozos is on a Friday, like it was this year, Shushan Purim comes out on Shabbos. But since we're not allowed to lain the Megillah, distribute Matanos L'avyonim or give Shaloch Manos on Shabbos, and we have a Seuda (actually three) on Shabbos anyway, those mitzvos are divided between Friday and Sunday, thus a Purim Meshulash, a three day Purim (all right, I agree. The three corners of a Hamantaschen theory is easier to understand). When that happens, we lain the Megillah and distribute Matanos L'avyonim on the Friday, the fourteenth of Adar; on Shabbos, the fifteenth of Adar, we recite Al Hanissim; on Sunday, the sixteenth of Adar, we give Shaloch Manos and eat our Purim Seuda. On Monday, the seventeenth of Adar, we sleep and begin our post-Purim diet, which lasts for about three days -- until we begin cleaning for Pesach and discover all the hidden chocolate bars! At least after this last Purim Meshulash, I won't be doing it again – hiccup -- for another thirteen years!

A loud minority of Israelis confuse Purim with the Fourth of July. The sound of the "rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air" is deafening, and the explosions outright dangerous. This year the askanim in Meah Shearim came up with an original idea for keeping firecrackers and the type of people who play with them out of their neighborhood. They smeared rotten fish all over Kikar Shabbos and Malkhei Yisrael Street, where in past years the undesirables congregated (I kid you not!). So now an entire generation of Jerusalem Yidden will associate Purim with the smell of rotten fish (at least the smell is not coming from my oven!) rather than homemade Hamantashen.

It was fun going to shul on Shabbos and wishing my friends a "Freilechin Purim." I noticed a lot of "Na Nach" kippos among the men and ties where there usually are none. During Kedusha, the Chazzan broke out in a slow, heartfelt rendition of the prayer, sung to the tune of "Ad, ad, ad, ad shelo yedah, kama yayin hu shata, ad shelo yedah…." Most of the women didn't realize what they were humming with such deveikus. I had to stifle my giggles. 

Sunday was dedicated to exchanging Shaloch Manos and eating the Purim Seuda. Although there were several dozen guests at our Seuda, without the pressure of having to fit the Megillah reading into a very busy schedule, Purim was much calmer and more relaxed than usual. But then again, after devoting three days to attaining the exalted level of "ad shelo yedah" how could we not (hiccup) feel calm and relaxed?


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