What We Learn from a Pandemic Purim (February 2021 KOL)

Purim is a topsy-turvy holiday.  Everything we usually do to celebrate a holiday, we do the opposite.  We attend the service in crazy costumes, not nice clothes.  We interrupt the reading of sacred texts with noisemakers instead of listening with respect.  We play games instead of study.  We eat unusual shaped foods. (Ok, maybe we do that with every holiday – what shape is gefilte fish?)

A holiday where everything seems out of place, the unusual is usual, and nothing is normal seems just right for our times.  Purim may be the most pandemic-appropriate holiday on our calendar.  Certainly we will miss the fun of being together in costume, hearing the Megillah in person, booing Haman, and playing carnival games, as we do on a “normal” Purim.  But Purim isn’t about being “normal,” especially not this year.  So we will celebrate Purim in unusual ways, still in costume, but in Zoom boxes, still making noise, but with a “mute” button, and still playing games, but at a never-before-seen drive-through “Stay-In-Your-CAR-nival.”  Our topsy-turvy world meets a topsy-turvy holiday and the end result is still a lot of fun for our community.  Stay tuned, as details on all of our Purim festivities will be revealed soon!

There are also lessons we can learn from this pandemic Purim that apply to our lives today.  At the end of the Purim story, we are taught of the tradition of sending gifts of food and fun to those who are in need.  Certainly this is reflected in our efforts to care for those most affected by the disease and its economic disruptions.   Our Purim heroine, Esther, finds her voice and stands up for her ideas.  We’ve seen that among those fighting for health care equity and racial justice.  And, of course, on Purim it is traditional to WEAR A MASK!  Ok, it usually means a mask like a disguise, but this year let’s take it at face value.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.)

We also learn from Purim the importance of having a good time, even in a difficult situation.  Purim follows the oft-stated outline of many Jewish holidays:  They tried to kill us.  We won.  Let’s eat.  But even amidst the seriousness of the situation, we are still entitled to have a little fun.  Hence the costumes, noisemakers, carnivals, and hamentashen.

So even in this most unusual of times in which we find ourselves, without diminishing the true anguish currently present in society, we are still permitted to give ourselves a break, put on a silly costume, and have some fun.  We are in a topsy-turvy time, so celebrating a topsy-turvy holiday seems just right.

Wishing you a chag Purim sameach, a very happy Purim!


Rabbi David S. Widzer