Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Purim Shpiel

Viola Swamp

We're celebrating Purim this week, a Jewish holiday filled with storytelling, masquerade and drunken antics. It celebrates the story of Queen Esther, a Jewish girl in Persia who was chosen to be Queen and single-handedly saved the Jews by telling King Ahashverosh that his Prime Minister, Haman, was planning to kill them all. There's a lot more to the story but it shares a similar plot to most all Jewish festivals.
  1. They tried to kill us. 
  2. We won. 
  3. Let's eat a lot of food. 
Customs include making hamantaschen - three cornered cookies to symbolize the bad prime minister's hat (or his Spock-like ears) - making a lot of noise every time his name is mentioned in the ritual reading of the story, dressing up as a character from the story or as anything you like and giving baskets of treats and goodies. And adults are commanded to get so drunk they cannot tell the difference between King Ahashverosh and Haman. That's pretty friggin drunk.

Purim was never my favorite holiday for many of the same reasons that I never liked Halloween. I was embarrassed to dress up. I worried that other kids would laugh at me. I never liked my home-made costumes. And having to do this twice a year instead of just on Halloween made it all the more painful. Mr. Rosen felt exactly the same way growing up in Israel, though he was spared the extra torture of Halloween.

And that is why I was especially proud of my son yesterday because yesterday morning, last minute and possibly against my better judgment, I signed him up to go to a Purim workshop at an Israeli woman's house in the next town over where they would hear the story of Purim, make hamantaschen and goody parcels, play games, sing songs, all while parading around in costume. And mostly with kids he doesn't know. And no parents. And all in Hebrew, which he doesn't always understand. When I told him after school that he and his friend were going to this party and that he could dress up, he was nervous. What if the other kids laugh at me? You see, he was having second thoughts about his costume, one he'd been planning since Halloween. He wanted to dress up as Miss Viola Swamp from the book Miss Nelson is Missing.

Miss Viola Swamp is the alter ego of Miss Nelson, a school teacher who can't command the respect of her students. One day she comes to school dressed as her own substitute, Miss Viola Swamp, an ugly, mean witch who is so terrifying that the kids will do anything, even behave, to get Miss Nelson back. Excellent book. The costume is a big black wig and a giant nose and black fingernails and striped tights and a black dress. Yesterday we bought all of those things, except for the dress. Instead we belted one of Mr. Rosen's black tee-shirts. My son was delighted with his costume but he was concerned (his word) about how other kids would react. He asked me what I would do if I were him.

This is where I lied because if I were him I would have just worn the lion costume from Halloween. But instead I told him straight up that I would be Miss Viola Swamp if that's who I really wanted to be and as long as I was happy with that decision, then no one else would care. And that's what he did. Amidst a sea of pirates, Iron Men, Bat Men, Skeletors and Buzz Light Years was my son, Miss Viola Swamp, dressed in yellow and black striped tights and a belted black tee-shirt. And either no one said a word or he was too happy to notice. Either way, despite a genetic predisposition for hating costume holidays, we might just have a kid who loves Purim. And himself.


RookieMom Whitney said...

We love Miss Nelson is Missing and saw the play this year. Great idea for a costume!

Inner Toddler said...

I take no credit for the costume. It was all shalev. although the black tee was my idea, just because I was too cheap to buy the witch costume.

Lori said...

Oh wow- I love the last line- and himself. This is a great story. Sometimes lies make for great parenting.

Naomi Broudo said...

Ahh, what we can learn from our kids. Your son is amazing. Loved the story as always! Chug samauch.

Handmade in Israel said...

Totally great story! My eldest was so worried what others thought of him but now, aged ten, wants to go mad like all the other kids. Wait till next year in Israel... he'll have a blast!

norswedgian said...

I too, was Miss Viola Swamp at our Purim party! We love to read this story each year to the children in our preschool classroom. Thanks for sharing your story. I loved it... and I loved being Miss Viola Swamp!

Anonymous said...

Your story literally brought tears to my eyes. Shalev is the most whole hearted 6 year old I know. And I totally agree sometimes lying can be the best parenting.

no way said...

This is such a great story! I am so happy he had the confidence to dress as he pleased. My 6-yo is a big costume guy (not me!) and wore a full cowboy costume, chaps and all, to a very public St Pat's celebration in our very Irish neighborhood last weekend. I was nervous that he might be made fun of, but other than a few 7th-grade boy types who slyly said something, he was well-received. I love that he is so creative and willing to do something different, and I am not ready to see his spirit crushed yet. Cheers to our boys!

aimee said...

shalev pretty much rocks. and so do hamantashen. and so do you. and so does purim!

Carissa said...

Your kids are brilliant. I remember Viola Swamp!!! What a cool costume. I'm glad he stuck with his initial plan and said screw the other kids!


AG Ambroult said...

A kid who loves himself? It's official:you are doing everything right.

I cannot tell you just HOW much i love the fact that he wanted to dress up as Miss Viola Swamp. God, i love that book.