Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Adar 5761 - March 14, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
The Monster and the Witch
(not a fairy tale)

by Channi Katz

The lady ahead of me at the counter is paying for some small colored bits of shiny paper. They are neatly stacked and packed in a plastic wrapper. It certainly piques my curiosity, and, vaguely remembering that Purim is just around the corner, I stretch my imagination as far as it will go. Hey, presto! I've got it; these must be shalach monos labels!

You have to be "with it" nowadays, aware of every new fad that is currently in vogue. So I paste on an innocent smile and taking on a self assured air, I turn to the young woman as she is counting out her change.

"Labels, those, are they?"

I must have said something wrong. At least the lady is genuinely taken aback by my ignorance. She casts the saleswoman a despairing look and mumbles something about "chocolate papers."

Aha. Oh well, now I understand. It is that season again, all right. The time for creativity has arrived! As I turn around and shamefacedly make my way to the plainest brand of bland cellophane paper on the shelves, I envisage dozens of capable baalebustas patchkering in their immaculate kitchens, deftly filling intricate molds with melted chocolate, adding delicate flavors to various mixtures and, finally, wrapping each dainty little praline into one of those attractive shiny bits of paper. A gulf of despair tries to overtake me as I reach for a pile of white cardboard boxes. This is just not my time of the year, and I want to run away, hibernate somewhere until Erev Pesach.

You see, with a damp shmatte or dustcloth in hand, I feel quite in place. Scrubbing, cleaning, polishing -- that is something for which you do not need much talent, just a good supply of elbow grease, b'ezras Hashem. Work your way through the house, tidy up here, straighten up there, make those lists, order and plan your time well, and you are ready to greet Pesach with a smile. It is straightforward, dependable me against the Pesach monster. True, it took some years until I managed to tame it, and those first years of Pesach making still bring back some nasty memories. But by now, I have become a pro and the Pesach beast and me get along quite well. All around the year, I smile at him once in a while, as I sternly forbid any member of the household to eat over a sefer or novel. And I can hear him smirking from within the Pesach cupboard where he hides all year long as I proudly inform my guests that please, no chometz allowed upstairs at any time. Comes January and with a bang, the beast is let loose. With great strides, he storms up the stairs, two steps at a go, and takes up position in the master bedroom. From there, he glares at me as I dutifully take down the curtains and vacuum behind the beds, one eye on the wall calendar to ensure the bedrooms are finished before Rosh Chodesh Adar.

If all the work is swiftly executed, the monster lets out a satisfied groan. But watch out if someone is too preoccupied to pay the beast enough attention! He will make it his business to make himself felt at all times of the day, and especially at night, gently prodding and nudging the conscience of the housewife, focusing the light of his flashlight at the cobwebs on the ceiling and the dust behind the beds!

Then, for the first two weeks of Adar, the monster takes a rest, gracefully allowing me to prepare for Purim in style. He stretches himself out on the carpet and takes a nap, making sure to turn around noisily every once in a while, lest his imminent reappearance be forgotten.

Yet, as I struggle with baskets and ribbons, I eye the beast not without sympathy. At least the beast responds to some old fashioned green soap and ditto scrunchy! Purim, on the other hand, is a nightmare for the lefthanded, fantasy lacking individuals! [Ed. Who says you don't have imagination!] Especially in this era, where everything has to be original. Original shalach monos. And original ways to wrap them up. Original costumes for the children. Original menus for the various meals. There are people who just have it in them, and Purim is the opportunity they are waiting for to let all their creativity burst forth. But for someone like me, born without a trace of Hungarian blood, Purim can be a hard time.

If Pesach takes on the form of a benevolent monster, then Purim is a wicked witch who shrieks with delight every time another cake flops, and cackles with glee as I try to squeeze a mishoach manos into a dainty cardboard box that just will not yield. As far as the costumes go, boruch Hashem I am blessed with good neighbors and relatives. As I circulate the same outfits every year, one child down, they call on their best acting talents when the little ones make their appearance on the big day. Admirably, they pretend that they have never seen anything like it before -- at least on this particular child -- even if their affectionate smiles turn a bit wan. But the mishloach monos are not as simple an affair. Forgetting about delicate pralines and petit fours, even if the contents are bought, they still have to look presentable. I vividly remember my father making the rounds some 35 years ago with two cartons in his car boot. One box contained bottles of wine, the second, cans of fruit. As he arrived at each address, he would extract one of each from their resting places, and each hand holding one half mishloach mona, he would enter the house. Beaming with Purim spirit.

Try doing that today and one would probably be excommunicated. Today we spend almost as much on the presentation as on the gifts themselves. Never mind that all the glitter and cellophane will eventually disappear without a trace; the witch demands her share! So we have come to a compromise, the Purim witch and I. As she chortles at me, I just laugh back. Never mind if my kids look rather prosaic, the packages so very ordinary and their contents identicial to last year's offering. For consolation, I just turn to the friendly monster snoring in the corner, and he will lazily open an eye and give me a wink.

Which just gives me an idea. Perhaps next year I'll dress up one child as a Pesach monster and the other as a Purim witch. That might be original after all.


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