March 16, 2000
Purim Magic and Minutia
The fun -- and fattening -- mitzvah of mishloach manot
Late one night last week, Rabbi Chaim Hanoka stood talking to David Angel in a large, almost empty parking lot, well past the appointed hour that each man had expected to get into his car and drive home. Hanoka was attempting to unravel the mathematical complexities of how Purim falls in Adar Bet, or the second month of Adar, this year, making 2000 a leap year, not only in the solar calendar but in the lunar, or Jewish calendar, as well.
Hanoka, a cheerful young man in a black hat, and the director of Chabad of Pasadena, was explaining all this outside the campus of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC) after a fruitful planning meeting for the community Purim carnival, that both he and Angel had earlier attended. Angel, a stout, friendly man, who could be easily mistaken for a lumberjack, grasped the implications of the two leap years immediately, which, no doubt, will help him in figuring out the odds for the ping-pong ball toss next week. Angel, who is a member of Temple Beth David, was brought in last year to sit on the committee, and now finds himself in a permanent, lifelong position (not that he asked); Hanoka came along a few years ago when Chabad got started in Pasadena.
The committee, which has been meeting around a large rectangular table in the Center library since January, is one among thousands that meets this time of year to select, and perfect, the games and booths that will appear at Purim carnivals around the country. In Pasadena, the carnival has been celebrated as a community event for the past 20 years, rotating each year to a different synagogue, "Which means that the community isn't split up in six different directions," explained Edeena Gordon of PJTC, a member of the committee. Rochelle Coombs of Congregation Shaari Torah, still remembered the days of her childhood, during the '60s, when the carnival was only at PJTC, but now supported -- with her time and her money -- the group approach.
The carnival, which commands about 500 fun-loving participants will offer the usual stress-releasing booths and games. "Most of the booths are to get out your aggressions," Hanoka ventured. When asked, though, what karaoke or the lollipop toss had to do with Purim, Angel spoke for the group: "There is a little connection to Purim in all of the booths," he said, such as the Vashti ring toss, the knock-down-Haman ball toss, the Queen Esther karaoke experience, and so on and so forth. The sisterhoods from the participating temples, Coombs was eager to add, were making the hamantaschen.
The committee, which by now is working together as smoothly as a well-oiled grogger, had a pretty good grasp of the difficulties and last-minute tie-ups that lay before them. During the meeting, the smallest minutia was presented and discussed: Were the churros kosher? Adrienne Matros of PJTC's Weizmann Community Day School said they were. Matros, whose father works at the West Co. Bakery, which is donating all the churros, explained it was a matter of the dough... and the bakery. Gordon, who commanded the north end of the table, was satisfied with their qualifications but was stuck on how many churros to order. "A couple thousand," Rabbi Hanoka calculated, from the other end, "Just get rid of them before Pesach." When Combs announced that Congregation Sharri Torah's youth group wanted to do a karaoke booth instead of the usual dart balloons, the meeting room erupted: "Why is it one or the other?" "The more the merrier." Finally a conciliatory Angel came through, "Okay, okay," he said, taking a swig of his Coke, "we'll take the dart balloons." Shirli Cohen, the youth and seniors director at PJTC, supported his decision: "It's not hard, it's easy, well, it's hard to win, but not hard to run."
A zillion more mundane details were gone over that night, and still the committee worked on. Perhaps, I thought, not entirely unselfishly, it's not such a bad thing that the planning committees of the world are confined to musty meeting halls, with ancient maps of Palestine on their walls, so that children -- and those of us who still act like children -- can partake of the magic that is this holiday.
Final on the agenda was the dunk tank: The temple kids were so excited about being the "victims" in the tank that it occurred to the committee that they might be able to charge them to participate. "The Tom Sawyer approach," Angel mused, "'You want to whitewash this wall?'" This idea so delighted those sitting around the table that they momentarily lost focus and drifted off into their own magical worlds before returning to reality. "How often do you think the kids are going to get dunked?" Gordon asked, in a practical, no-nonsense voice. The committee agreed it depended on the adult who was in charge, his sense of humor and who was inside the booth, "If you don't like the kid... beeeep!" a voice cackled, somewhere off in the distance. Moved by the spirit, and the increasingly late hour, the committee landed on the idea that if they could convince their rabbis to get into the water, they could make a small fortune. Turning to Rabbi Hanoka, Matros asked if he wouldn't mind taking a dip in the tank, "With a swim suit it wouldn't be so bad," she said. "If I'm going in there," Hanoka said firmly, "it's $500 a ticket." The thought stopped the committee dead in its tracks: "Do rabbis wear swim suits?"
PJCT's Purim Carnival will be held March 19 from noon to 3 pm. 1434 N. Altadena Dr., Pasadena, (626) 798-1161.
More Purim Stories:
A personal perspective on Esther's legacy.
Don't let the holiday pass you by! Find an event to attend in our Purim listings.
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