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THE REAL PURIM SPIRIT

Purim 2005 is one I will never forget.

Not for its joy or for its revelry – but for its aching loneliness.

You see, Purim just came at the wrong time that year.

My husband, teeny little son, and I had just picked up and moved from Lakewood to Montreal so my husband could start college. It was a last-minute decision – one I hadn’t entirely thought through. Still, I was brimming with optimism as I packed and said my cheery goodbyes, telling my friends and family they shouldn’t worry about me, even though I was moving to a place where I didn’t have a single friend.

This was going to be an adventure!

I loved meeting new people, and I was sure they’d love meeting me!

Well.

Let’s just say things didn’t go as planned.

My enthusiasm evaporated as soon as I crossed the border.

As my husband whizzed by signs and billboards in a very foreign French, I surveyed the frozen tundra that had suddenly become my home, and reality slapped me across the face.

Hold on a second.

Was it really going to be -10 degrees Fahrenheit on the warmer winter days?

Were my front stairs going to be covered with black ice every single day, ensuring that taking my son out in a stroller would be as difficult as a Winter Olympic Sport?

This was not good.

As my husband unloaded our boxes, I curled up into a ball and cried my eyes out, and I stayed in the fetal position for a lot longer than I’d like to admit. So long, in fact, that I almost didn’t see Purim coming when it pounced on me in early March.

Purim?

Now?

How exactly was I supposed to celebrate?

I had only lived in Montreal since late December, and I knew about as many people as I had when I first moved in. Translation – I knew next to no one.

I had been so busy feeling sorry for myself – who had time to make friends?

But it was Purim!

And I couldn’t stomach the thought of sitting at home all Purim day, watching the revelry from my window, a spectator to simcha I didn’t quite feel.

Suddenly, my stubborn side was awakened from its hibernation.

Friends or no friends, I was going to give out mishloach manos to those neighbors who had been kind enough to introduce themselves when I’d first moved in. I was going to prove to them that those tear stains hadn’t been permanently etched onto my skin – that I was normal (well – most of the time) and I was ready to be their friend.

Maybe this would be my foot in the door.

Maybe this would be the beginning of some beautiful new friendships.

Hardly the geshikt balabusta, I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies while my husband ran to the dollar store to buy whatever baskets and cellophane they had left. (He didn’t ask too many questions – he was just grateful to see me resemble a human again).

I painstakingly wrapped each basket, pasted a smile on my face, and waited for someone to arrive.

I waited.

And waited some more.

When it was jarringly obvious that my address hadn’t made it to anyone’s list, I refused to be deterred.

No worries!

If the party wasn’t coming to me, I would bring the party to them!

With a shaky resolve, I rounded up my baskets and my anemic-looking cookies and headed to the car.

Swallowing my humiliation, I knocked on doors, thrust my mishloach manos – with its bright “Berkovic Family” label in case they couldn’t place the face – into the hands of whoever opened the door, and tried not to seem awkward when it was obvious they hadn’t been expecting me.

But awkward it was.

Painfully awkward.

One house in particular sticks out in my memory.

I knocked and a woman my age answered. We had met a few times at the grocery store, and she had been perfectly friendly and polite. When she opened the door, she was in full costume, and it was clear she had planned her mishloach manos to match the family theme.

And – judging from the panic in her eyes – she hadn’t prepared a mishloach manos to give me.

When she turned her back, I knew she was whispering to her husband, “Quick. Recycle something we got from someone else, and stick our label on that.”

As I stood in her doorframe, my face as red as beet, I wanted to scream. “I am not this pathetic! I have friends back where I came from!” but instead I just stood there, forcing a smile and hiding the shame.

I didn’t even flinch when she handed me the exact same thing I had received from her friend up the block. Same packaging. Same theme. Totally unrelated to her costume.  Her label affixed on top of her friend’s label.

Ouch.

I didn’t blame her.

She barely knew me!

Why would she have thought to prepare a mishloach manos for me?

But it didn’t ease the sting as I walked back to my car. There would be no more awkward stops for me. Instead, I tossed my mishloach manos list into the backseat and ate a few bars of chocolate to drown out my sorrows.

It’s been a few years – and a few moves – since Purim 2005.

I’ve made new friends, baruch Hashem, and have had many fun, positive experiences over Purim that should have long erased the loneliness I felt back in my early days in Montreal.

Nowadays, I don’t worry too much about my mishloach manos list. We adults don’t really have time to give much more than our one obligatory mishloach manos – Purim festivities have been taken over by our children. My lists have been replaced by their much longer lists.

But that doesn’t mean I forgot how lonely – or how invisible – I felt on Purim 2005.

I was lucky to have been a reasonably popular kid back when I was in school, so that Purim, it was the first time in my life when I learned how it felt to be unnoticed. To be irrelevant. To be on the outside looking in.

And I don’t want to forget that feeling. Because that feeling engendered within me an empathy I’d never really felt before.

These days, when Purim comes around, I always try to rack my brain to think of the one person who will be touched to receive my mishloach manos.  The one person who might feel good because she was remembered. The one person who might be saved from eating too many chocolate bars to drown out her sorrows.

This year, I asked my children to do the same.

As they compiled their lists and mapped their routes, I added an instruction: “Pick someone in your class who isn’t expecting a mishloach manos from you and add him or her to your list.”

At first, my idea was met with resistance.

“Ma, that’s weird,” my kids said. “Nobody wants a pity mishloach manos.”

“So don’t give it with pity,” I said with a shrug. “Give it with love.”

They groaned – clearly their mother didn’t get it.

But they weren’t born yet in Purim 2005.

They don’t realize that I get it more than they know.

And I hope one day they’ll realize that the most unforgettable mishlaoch manos aren’t the ones with the most creative themes, the most perfectly-matched ribbons, or the most delicious treats.

Nope.

The most unforgettable mishloach manos are the ones that tell someone else that she has been remembered.  

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