Growing up, holiday preparation always started very early in my parents’ house. You couldn’t eat hametz upstairs as early as February. Chicken soup was being frozen for Sukkot as early as August, and the planning for the mishloach manot (gift baskets given to friends) for Purim began weeks in advance.
My mother would throw herself into a creative frenzy each year over her annual “Around the World” mishloach manot theme. As a family, we voted on that year’s country and we would get to work weeks in advance. My mother single-handedly cooked over 70 authentic one-person meals, filling our freezer with cuisine we’d never heard of, and she and my father wrote up a comical letter, always tying Purim in with that year’s country. And of course, my parents would dress in the traditional garb of Yemen, Ethiopia, Italy, or whatever country won that year’s vote.
The day of Purim began very early for us, and like little Purim elves, my sisters and I would begin to prepare the baskets with all the labeled food items. Way before most kids had even put on their costumes, my siblings and I were already delivering our family’s mishloach manot all over the neighborhood. This lasted almost 20 years, until finally, my parents threw in the towel and retired from the Purim basket frenzy entirely.
With this sort of background, it’s no wonder that when I first got married, I agonized over a creative theme for our mishloach manot, complete with coordinating costumes. Weeks before Purim, I was planning, shopping, organizing, and readying myself to wow my friends with my cleverness and creativity.
This madness only worsened with the arrival of our first daughter. I found myself shamelessly stuffing a 2-year-old girl into a fleece monkey suit, complete with a full head mask and booties, and I in a matching monkey jumpsuit, while the two of us sweated buckets in the Los Angeles heat, delivering our banana themed mishloach manot. You can imagine the kind of tantrums I was dealing with amidst my Purim deliveries.
Then came my second daughter, and before we knew it, we were heading into Purim with one princess obsessed daughter and one strong-headed tomboy. I found myself facing the holiday with a princess and a dinosaur and no idea how to tie it all together into a theme. I caved on the costumes, but stayed firm on my mishloach manot, determined more than ever on creativity now that we were an eclectic group of costumed misfits. For a 24-hour holiday—one of our most joyous—I was always filled with dread and stress.
Last year, my husband had to attend a conference over Purim, so I decided to fly myself and the girls from our home in Chicago to New York to spend the day with my sister. This allowed me to take a step back from the usual pre-Purim stress, and with no friends in New York to have to deliver mishloach manot to, I had the whole day ahead of me.
I took my time curling my 5-year-old’s hair, doing her make-up, and running through the house roaring with my dinosaur (yes, we did princess costumes three years in a row and a dinosaur two years in a row). We raided our cousins’ candy, reviewed the megillah story complete with handmade puppets, and spent most of the day lounging and laughing together. Through it all, I watched my sister run her themed mishloach manot around in a blizzard while I received her visitors at the door, accepting all the beautifully prepared themed baskets, each one more impressive than the next.
I couldn’t help but notice the difference between my Purim and everyone else’s. I was dressed in costume, hanging out with my kids, high on candy, and totally relaxed. It seemed as if everyone else had lost track, so busy with outdoing themselves and others on their mishloach manot that they were missing out on slowing down and focusing on the joy of the holiday.
And all these years, I had been doing exactly the same thing. I’d been displaying the same behavior to my daughters, misleading them about what the holiday of Purim is truly about. At the end of the day, my sister stood in her kitchen, overflowing with candies and trays of freshly baked goods and breads, wondering aloud what she was going to do with all this food.
What was she going to do with it all? What do any of us do with it all?
As I helped her sort through the baskets, I thought about how all this effort and money spent on giving food to each other could be better put to use. We get so caught up with the mishloach manot aspect of Purim that we forget the other good deeds this holiday is all about, which is charity and feeding the hungry. At that very moment, I decided I was no longer going to participate in the preparing and delivering of mishloach manot (other than its most basic requirement of two foods to one person).
Purim is fast approaching, and normally I would be busy with the themed preparation of my mishloach manot, but this year, we aren’t doing it. This year, I am taking the money I would have spent on our Purim baskets and donating it to a kosher soup kitchen. Thankfully, our friends and neighbors are blessed with pantries full of food, and they know we care for and value them. I trust no one will be insulted that we have chosen to give to the hungry instead of running amok with baskets full of superficiality camouflaged as a good deed. We instead would like to teach our daughters that the true value of this holiday lies in our generosity to those less fortunate.
We chose to donate to two different organizations. The soup kitchen is called Masbia and services a number of neighborhoods in New York. We also donated to the Chicago Chesed Fund to give back to our own community as well. The Chicago Chesed Fund is not a soup kitchen, but does a great deal of good for families in need in the greater Chicago area. We will certainly allow and encourage our daughters to prepare mishloach manot for their friends and teachers, but we intend to take the approach of utilizing this act to teach them the ultimate goal, which is the joy of giving to others, the modesty in which we give, and the integrity in which we give it. This year and every one from here on out, we as a family are kicking the triviality of the holiday to the curb, and bringing Purim back to how it was meant to be celebrated, with genuine joy and giving.