By Harry Weller
For nine months, my wife Robyn and I planned a March visit to Israel. Yes, you guessed it. Our daughter Sarah was expecting her third child, and now that we’re retired, we’re free to travel there to help with anything she and her family needs.
In Late December, we got word that the doctor had scheduled Sarah’s C-secton for March 9, coinciding with Ta’anit Esther (the Fast of Esther). Our grandchild would be born in Adar, one of the happiest months for the Jewish people. We booked our El Al flight from Boston so we’d arrive in plenty of time to assist
Well, babies often have their own time tables. The weekend before we departed, things changed. Instead of March 9, the baby was coming on Monday, March 2, Israel’s third election day of the year and two days before our arrival.
With Hashem’s grace, Sarah delivered a beautiful baby boy that Monday. We joyously headed to Israel to meet our new grandson, play with his brothers and celebrate Purim together.
I was never in Israel for Purim, so I really looked forward to it. My Mom and Dad, of blessed memory, spent many Purims in Netanya, and I have pictures of Mom in various costumes. She loved to dress up. To renew the tradition, I brought along a clown wig my Mom had worn, and Robyn had a Minnie Mouse sweatshirt, so we could join the festivities Israeli style. Ultimately, however, we did and we didn’t, which is what made my Purim so unusual.
When we arrived, we were introduced to Purim in Israel. The first day, and every day thereafter, our middle grandson, Zacki, left Gan (pre-school) in a different costume made by the teachers. The oldest, Natan, had a different chapeau each day as well. Kids everywhere began wearing costumes on the Thursday before Purim and continued to do so each day, with the exception of Shabbat. It was a new and wonderful experience for us.
Indeed, Purim is everywhere in Israel. Up until the last-minute, stores have any and all accoutrements needed to liven up the holiday. So much so, that when we walked into a convenience store to purchase some non-Purim items, a lady going through a pile of silly shirts accidentally tossed one into my hands that matched my wig and fit perfectly. Serendipity, Israel style.
Our Israeli Purim, however, was not all fun and games. On the Shabbat preceding Purim, we were informed that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as folks who had just arrived from the United States, we couldn’t attend Megillah reading at our daughter’s synagogue, because international travelers were barred from attending gatherings of 100 people. That also meant we couldn’t march around the synagogue in our silly costumes together with our grandsons. It was a disappointing turn of events, but not the only twist in the story.
What made Purim truly unusual derived from the calendar, halachah (Jewish law) and tradition. The baby’s brit fell on 13 Adar, Ta’anit Esther. Thus, we couldn’t have a contemporaneous seudat mitzvah (festive meal). Normally, this dilemma is solved by having the brit right after Mincha (afternoon service), then saying Ma’ariv (evening service), and voila, the fast day is over. But in Israel, everyone celebrates Purim on 14 Adar, except for Jerusalemites who wait a day and celebrate instead on 15 Adar, which is Shushan Purim.
In our case, the mohel, who lives outside of Jerusalem, didn’t want to perform a late afternoon brit because for him Purim began at sunset and he wanted to be home to celebrate. Indeed, any friend coming from outside Jerusalem for a late day brit on Ta’anit Esther would be driving home rather than hearing Megillah in their usual confines. Consequently, we decided to schedule the brit for midday on Ta’anit Esther and resigned ourselves to not having a festive meal.
There was also the coronavirus issue. By the day of the brit the rules had changed such that Robyn and I couldn’t be in a crowd of 50 people. Sarah had to ensure there’d be fewer than 50 guests so we could attend. This was made less difficult by the fact that we weren’t serving food. Nevertheless, she had to count heads.
The day of the brit arrived and it continued to be unusual. First, I was the sandak, the person honored with holding the baby during the brit. Due to my status, I didn’t have to fast after the brit. So I ate. Indeed, even if I wasn’t the sandak, that night wasn’t Purim for me, the next night was, so I was guaranteed starting Purim fun on a full stomach. I liked that.
Next, because of COVID-19 rules, I had my first private Megillah reading along with my wife, daughter and one of her friends. Sarah chanted two chapters and her friend Yakov the rest. Listening to her leyn (chant) the Megilah also was a first and it was wonderful.
Purim day was special. Robyn and I walked around in costume all day, getting thumbs-up symbols wherever we went. And I wasn’t alone. Almost everyone, young and old, was in costume. We delivered mishaloach manot (gifts of food) to friends and enjoyed their crazy outfits as well. It was especially nice to know that every soul there was celebrating Purim.
And my best new thing? I heard the Megillah with my newest grandson, Amichai Yehuda, nestled snugly in my arms.
Retired state prosecutor Harry Weller and his wife Robyn are members of Beth David Synagogue and volunteer for several organizations in Israel and the local Jewish community. They live in West Hartford.
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Main Photo: Harry Weller, dressed in his Purim costume, holds his newborn grandson Amichai Yehuda.