The Purim Theme
By Chaya Sara Schlussel
I come from a very simple family. The shalach monos we send usually consist of nicely decorated bags or plain brown baskets, filled with standard nosh like potato chips, pretzels, lollipops, etc. So we were all in for a surprise when this year, my sister announced that she’d be having a ‘theme’ for Purim. Yup, she said, everyone on her block had a ‘theme,’ and she was beginning to feel left out, backward, out-of-step with the times here in Boro Park. She explained that one neighbor last year dressed all her kids up as yellow and black striped bees. She sent shalach monos made up of a jar of honey, honey cake, and a small box of honeycomb cereal. Another neighbor’s family was costumed as astronauts. They sent over a plastic container in the shape of a rocket ship, filled with moon-shaped sugar cookies and star fruit. So, she concluded, this year, she’d also come up with a ‘theme.’ Seeing that I couldn’t talk her out of it, I shrugged my shoulders and left her to plan her Purim shebang.
A week later, I met my sister at my parents’ house. Her daughter was pulling at her skirt, excitedly. “Mommy, for Purim this year, I want to be Esther Hamalka!” My sister said “No, zeeskeit. You can’t.” “Why, Mommy? Pleaaase! I want to be Esther Hamalka!” My sister answered, “Look, Shaindy. We discussed this already. You’re gonna be a zucchini, whether you like it or not!” Shaindy started sniffling. “But Mommy, what’s a zookleenee?” “It’s the green stuff you always ask me to take out of your bowl of soup.” Shaindy walked away, sulking in disappointment. My mouth hung open in disbelief. “She’s going to be a WHAT!!?”
“A zucchini. A vegetable.”
“Why on earth would you make your daughter be some garden-grown green stuff on Purim? She HATES vegetables!” I asked, astonished.
“Because that’s my theme.”
She proceeded to explain to me how ‘vegetables’ tied in to the Yom Tov Purim. “You see, it’s really easy. Vegetables are full of ‘Vitamins,’ and Queen Esther went over to Haman to in-‘Vite-‘im-in’ to the Seuda with Achashverosh. Voila. Vegetables.”
I was speechless. I looked at her like she’d just grown leafy arms and legs and a pumpkin head. I went home and prepared my simple shalach monos.
On Purim day, we met again at my parents’ house, with kids in tow. My sister had sewn up her own vegetable costumes, for each of her (very unhappy-looking) children. Shaindy was dressed as a droopy, dried-out zucchini. Her eight year old Suri introduced herself to me as a celery stick. Unfortunately though, Suri is about 60 pounds overweight. She looked much more like a round head of cabbage than anything else. And who ever heard of celery with carrot-colored hair? Her six year old was supposed to be a ‘kartuffel.’ He nebach wore a brown, baggy burlap sack. The shoulders were sagging, the middle was slumping and the material was slipping at his ankles: the poor kid was a mashed potato. My two year old twin nephews were running around in circles, dressed up appropriately as meshugenne shvammen (wild mushrooms). Even the parents got into the veggie-mentality. My sister was wearing an oversized red turtleneck, a red bubble skirt, and ketchup-red stockings. She was red in the face too, continually running after the twins and yelling at them to “Be careful! Don’t rip your seams!” - so she managed to properly portray an overripe tomato. (One nephew ended up spilling gravy all over his costume and making mushroom sauce!) My sister’s been complaining for years that her husband never listens to a word she says. I guess she finally got her revenge: She turned my brother in law into an ear of corn.
Following the theme, her shalach monos was the stuff of every child’s worst nightmare. Spinach and broccoli and parsnips and squash - with a drink of V8 on the side. My kids, like all kids, LOVE getting shalach monos - but when she offered them her health-freaky, fitness-guru-ey, doctor-recommended platter, they ran screaming in gagging horror.
Somehow, I don’t think my sister’s Purim was the success she’d hoped for. She was left over with more than 20 trays of vitamin-ful vegetables that absolutely no one wanted to touch. Scowling, she gathered it all together in one big bowl, and stuffed it into her refrigerator.
On Shushan Purim, I sent her a little gift-wrapped shalach monos of my own: a peeler and a bottle of salad dressing. I attached a note that read, “For next year, I have a wonderful theme idea for you to consider: Nuts!!”