Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Purim Party

This weekend I went to my very first Orthodox Jewish Purim party.  Purim celebrates an ancient event which you can read about on Wikipedia if you like.  The bottom line: on Purim, Jews have an obligation to PARTY.  We're talking get drunk*, dress up in silly clothes, sing and dance partying.  And eat a lot.  It wouldn't be a Jewish party if we didn't eat a lot.

*Technically only the men are supposed to get drunk and dance around.  This difference was observed in my family, but I can picture a more modern Purim party that might be possible.

My mother's cousin used to be a hippie.  When I was a child there was a minor scandal amongst our family members when he got involved with a shiksa and proceeded to have two children out of wedlock.  At that time, the family standard was not to go to synagogue every week, but it was expected that you would belong to one and attend on the important holidays.  Also, most everyone socialized and married within the tribe.

Then something happened, and my mother's cousin, who now goes by the Hebrew name "Nacham" (pronounce the "ch" as that throat-clearing sound that doesn't exist in English), swung to the other extreme and went hardcore orthodox.  His wife converted (a process which takes years of preparation and study if you're not born Jewish), and they had five more children.  Their youngest is now 9.  Their eldest is 29 and is currently pregnant with her 7th child.  There are 11 grandchildren and counting.

As the kids grow up, they are all married off as teenagers in arranged marriages.  You may or may not be surprised to learn that all the grown-and-married children appear to be amazingly happy and fulfilled.  I guess their parents are good matchmakers.  They are warm and smiling people, surrounded by happy and well-adjusted children.

Their community is closely-knit. Driving on the sabbath is not permitted, therefore all observant Jews need to live within walking distance of the synagogue.  All up and down the street where this family lives, doors were flung wide open and young men dressed up in costumes (such as you would expect to see on Hallowe'en) romped from house to house, having a glass of wine here, a bowl of chicken soup there, and generally whooping it up.  Everyone was welcome in every house.

The 24-year-old son of my mother's cousin did not wear a costume, but made up for it by wearing a stack of three hats on his head.  He was dressed in the traditional orthodox garb: white shirt, black knee breeches, white knee socks, and a long black overcoat.  As all the men do, he wore a long beard.  At 6'4" he cut a striking silhouette.  He put away a lot of wine over the course of the evening, and then loudly serenaded us with traditional Jewish songs, (out of tune) while accompanying himself on an electronic keyboard (well-played, but it was a little odd to hear these songs on the Pan Pipes setting).

His audience included his three youngest sisters dressed as a farmer, a cat, and one who was either either a sheep with very long ears or a woolly bunny.  The girls introduced me to their real bunny, a lop called Snowball.  One of the other guests had brought along their dog to the house.  I made the acquaintance of Paddy, the Jewish Golden Retriever.  Paddy got a bowl of challah bread soaked in chicken broth as her reward for good behaviour.

I have never been to a party quite like that before.  I'd go again next week if they asked me.  I don't regret my upbringing, but sometimes I get a little jealous of my healthy, hearty orthodox kin.  They sure know how to have a good time.

12 comments:

Pixiebaby said...

Sounds like a great time! So glad that you enjoyed yourself. Guess you'll have to go back next year ;)

Pixiebaby said...

By the way...now I totally get what you were saying about coming from a large family. :)

LL Cool Joe said...

Sounds great to me! Makes me wanna see Yentl again. :D

Jenski said...

As much fun as I had at my friends' bbq sedar, I want to get invited to a Purim party! It would be interesting to know some measurement of happiness among arranged and non-arranged marriages. I wouldn't be surprised if they were similar.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

I'm game for a Purim!! Wait... what's the ruling on strippers at these things??? ;-)

DarcKnyt said...

Wow, sounds like a lot of fun. :) My kind of party. :)

Jameil said...

Sounds fun! How was your shegetz husband accepted? You like how I took your wiki article and got up all in it, don't you? :)

kenju said...

Sounds fascinating, but then I've always had a healthy respect for and curiosity about other religions groups rituals.

DarcsFalcon said...

Oh that sounds like such a great time!

I'm glad you had fun. :D

Lynn said...

That sounds like a lovely time!

wigsf3 said...

Tribe? Do Jews still associate with one of the ancient tribes?

Sparkling Red said...

Yeah, some of us identify with the ancient tribes, loosely. There's no way to be sure exactly who is descended from whom, but the orthodox community definitely feels tribal.