...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Jews, booze, and hamantaschen (part 2)

Purim was last week. To tell the truth, although I definitely had a good time and learned lots (ha, ha...ho? "Purim" is Hebrew for "lots." That pun was definitely not intended, but I feel like I have to acknowledge it, lame as it might be), it was actually a little less fun than I anticipated, which is why I didn't blog about it earlier in the week. I probably built it up a little too much in my head, and weekly emails from Chabad of Eugene reinforced my own ideas about what it would be like. I remember back in early/mid October when Chris and I went to the Simchat Torah service, like an hour into the singing and dancing this woman was like, "Are you guys new here? If you really want to see us in full swing, come back for Purim." She kind of accompanied the statement with that kind of suggestive or conspiratorial eyebrow-raise and head-tilt, like, "Ohhh.". At the Tu B'shvat seder last month, as well, a Presbyterian minister made a few remarks, and he said something about P'nai Or being "A pretty rockin' congregation, as I remember from last year's Purim celebration."

I arrived at P'nai Or a little after 7:30pm. Admission to the celebration was six dollars and thirteen cents. (Students of religion: see if you can figure out what's significant about that number. The answer is at the end of the post!) A little less than half of the people there were in costume. I wasn't, because I don't enjoy wearing costumes, but Helana and Jeanine, the other two LC students, were. Instead of reading the Megillah Esther, a group of people from the congregation, including Reb Aryeh, put on a skit. Every time a character said the name Haman, everyone booed and stamped their feet and shook rattles; that was fun. (Chris: the guy playing Haman was the tall, thin man with the New York accent whom we talked to for awhile at Simchat Torah.) Reb Aryeh's character was this newscaster (from "Kvetch Nus") named Shofar Shogood, which was kind of funny (the shofar is a ram's horn blown on Rosh Hashana). I busted out my field research notebook and jotted down some notes for my thesis when he introduced the story of Esther as taking place on the 15th of the month of Adar, sometime in the 3000s AC--"That's AC, After Creation. Some people say DC, Destroying Creation, but let's not go there now." The understanding of the power of humanity relative to the earth is a difference between Chabad and most other Jewish denominations. When I asked Reb Asi, the Chabad rabbi in Eugene, what Chabad's stance on environmentalism were, he told me directly, "The difference between Jewish Renewal and Chabad is that Chabad does not believe humans have the power to destroy the earth."

They kept breaking up the skit for fundraising breaks, including this painfully drawn-out auction. Few people were bidding, in my opinion because they started the prices of the items too high (like the opening bid for a $50 item would be $36. Someone's not going to bid that much unless they really wanted the thing in the first place; when you start the bids that high, you eliminate the impulse purchase option). Helana, Jeanine and I snuck out to the refreshments area in the fellowship hall, where we talked about mysticism and meditation and ate hamantaschen and drank little paper medicine cups of wine. Helana said that she saw people back in the sanctuary sneaking drinks from flasks; it was pretty clear that a lot of the people were drunk. The idea of pre-gaming Purim still makes me laugh.

The skit and all the fundraising lasted about an hour, then people kind of trickled out of the sanctuary and towards the fellowship hall. I hung out for a few more minutes, greeted the rabbi, and ate more hamantaschen (which was delicious. I must have had at least ten pieces. Why do the Jews have all the best food?!), then left. Although I could feel the wine, all in all I probably had less than a glass worth; I could definitely still distinguish between "Blessed is Mordechai" and "Cursed is Haman." (Some may be interested to know that Mordechai and Haman have the same gematric value. Another Purim tradition holds that you should drink until you can't calculate gematria anymore.)

So, it was fun. I'm glad I went. But as far as celebrating, singing, and dancing with wild abandon, Simchat Torah was much better; I'm infinitely thankful that that holiday was my first Jewish Renewal experience.

(Answer: An admission of $6.13 charges one penny for each mitzvah in the Torah: the 10 Commandments, plus the 603 additional mitzvot. Clever, huh?)