Be Happy, It's Purim – Kveller
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Be Happy, It’s Purim


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Ages ago, most likely during my insecure early rabbinical school years, I first heard the phrase, “Be happy, it’s Adar!” 

While I can’t recall my specific reaction to said phrase, I can almost guarantee a barely filtered grunt, look of disgust or eye roll to indicate how ridiculous it sounded to me.

Be … happy? About a specific month in the Jewish calendar? Hard pass and no thank you. Let’s not try to legislate others’ emotions, OK?  

Yes, I knew the Jewish holiday of Purim takes place in Adar. Yes, I (eventually) knew this phrase originates from the Talmud (Ta’anit 29a) in which we read: “Just as when [the Hebrew month] Av begins one decreases rejoicing, so too when the month of Adar begins, one increases rejoicing.” 

But Purim was never my thing; I found it overrated, little more than an invitation for excessive drinking. For years I’d don a half-assed costume, chant some Megillah, enjoy a glass of wine and bow out early from some young adult event. I appreciated the narrative of a despicable antisemite and the brave Jews who stood up to him, but it never sank deep into my bones the way other sacred Jewish stories have. 

But then, on the eve of Purim 2020, a pandemic upended everything we thought we understood about human interaction. Our lives changed in a weekend and — for most Jewish professionals in the United States — Purim will forever be the line of demarcation. There was the “Before Times,” then Purim, and then there was COVID. 

These last two years have been relentless. The COVID era’s never-ending range of disruptions, from constant change to perpetual grief, have shaken and exhausted all of us, especially parents like me. Add to that individual and communal losses and setbacks, horrifying national and global crises, paralyzing political polarization, existential threats of climate change, racial and economic injustice, a dangerous resurgence of antisemitism, active and ongoing war… it’s just too much. Way too much. 

As we approach Purim 2022 and this strange anniversary of COVID in the U.S., this holiday of silliness and merriment might feel… well, a little unwelcome. And, at best, “Be happy, it’s Adar” could come across as an insult. What do we have to be happy about?

But this year, I’m not taking it as a slight. I’m interpreting it as a commandment. I’m leaning hard into the joy of Purim. I’m choosing to seek out laughter and ridiculousness, and I will be relentless in my pursuit. 

Why? Because we desperately need an infusion of humor and joy, medicine for the heart and soul, right now. And while our brokenness won’t necessarily be fully repaired in one holiday, Purim is certainly a welcome and necessary start. 

I’ve spent a great deal of time throughout the pandemic studying the relationship between Judaism and joy, the holiness of humor. Time and again I am reminded how essential laughter can be to our survival; look no further than the rise of the Jewish comic in post-World War II America as proof. As Mel Brooks once said, “If they’re laughing, how can they bludgeon you to death?” Our Jewish endurance is deeply connected to our ability to laugh; it is quite possibly our most finely tuned communal coping mechanism. 

Megillat Esther — the story of Purim — is not perfect, but it is a far more relevant-to-today story than my younger self ever realized. Two brave women at the center of the narrative, speaking truth to power, is inspiring. Mordechai and Esther’s allegiance to God — something bigger than the self — is like an allegory for our global interdependence throughout COVID, our responsibility to keep one another healthy. And, this year especially, a vicious antisemite who meets his demise offers me a sense of satisfaction I haven’t felt since watching Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” years ago. 

I’m not totally sure what my costume will be this Purim, but I currently picture a fierce warrior queen rising up from the Earth surrounded by wild hair, a thick mist and burning sage, middle fingers upright and ablaze, aimed right at neo-Nazis. 

Even picturing that version of myself brings a smile to my face. 

In its joy, Purim offers us a chance to reclaim some power, to reconnect with a strength and resilience these two years have nearly taken from us. Yes, we are exhausted. Yes, we are depleted. Maybe we’re angry and deeply resentful of all we’ve missed out on these past two years; no amount of laughter can ever fully take that away. 

But this Purim, the words of Vashti, Esther and Mordechai have the potential to recharge us. The ridiculous parody videos and Purim spiels flooding social media may very well refuel us. The Mirabel Madrigal costume you keep considering may well illuminate us. The cacophony of groggers — truly one of the most grating, obnoxious noises of all time — might very well make us giggle. And the ability to be together, whether physically or virtually, may give us a sense of belonging we have not felt in a long, long time. 

As Purim and the two-year anniversary of COVID in the U.S. approaches, perhaps it’s on all of us to remind one another, “Be happy, it’s Adar!” Our ability not just to survive, but to thrive, depends on it. 

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