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Jewish World Review
March 24, 2005
/ 13 Adar II, 5765
Baywatch Babe Baskets and Eminem's evil Israeli twin
By Andrea Simantov
Purim in Jerusalem is a time for creativity
For the last three months, the sixteen-year-old son had been sporting a knitted ski hat, his long black lashes barely visible beneath the woolly edge. Everything about him had, lately, appeared shadowed and secretive, and I constantly worried about disenfranchisement, potential drug-use, criminal involvements which lay far-beyond my area of mommy-expertise.
At a height of 6'3", his clothes had become baggier and the attitude more sullen. The appearance of two eclectic piercings did little to assuage a general sense that I was losing my son. Having been a former, devoted subscriber to Parents Magazine and current Oprah.Com groupie, it behooved me to ask whether or not I even knew my son!
On the other hand, he was staying at home more and more, doing well in his studies, actually assisting his younger sister with her term paper, and once took out the garbage after only six requests. He plays Scrabble with me when the Sabbath weather is inclement and still knows which fork to use for gefilte fish. But the woolly head covering was really getting to me. Unable to bear the suspense any longer, I finally blurted out, "O.K. What's with the hat?"
"What hat?" he queried back, sounding a little like Eminem's evil Israeli twin.
"That bad-looking rapper-rag which is covering your lush and blessedly-inherited head curls, that's which hat."
"This hat?" he responded. I have to give it to him. He can really keep a conversation pumping.
"I'm growing my hair for Purim. All the guys in school are. We're doing dread-locks and bleaching them blond. I told you about it."
Admittedly, my memory isn't what it used to be. And yet I still maintain that the data regarding a former yeshiva bochur's plan to costume himself as a Vanilla Bob Marley would have, somehow, remained in "storage." The vision of him walking into shul (synagogue) wearing this get-up would have held a unique place in my internal trauma closet.
Purim is a big, BIG deal around here. Everyone wears costumes, even the bank tellers and bus drivers. When the kids asked me that evening over a gourmet supper of Corn Flakes and canned beans what I planned on being this year, I resisted the urge to mutter, "A Baywatch Babe." Not that I couldn't pull it off, mind you. It's just that in my fervently-Orthodox neighborhood, no one including us owns a television, and all of that creativity would be wasted.
Feeling pressured by the looming holiday, it was time to give some serious thought to the preparation of Mishloach Manos (Purim gift baskets). Every year the competition was growing steeper and steeper NOT by the amounts of money spent but by the unbridled creativity of some of the other neighbor gals. Whatever happened to the standard "two-hamentaschen/six jelly-beans/mini-bottle-of-grape juice/three walnuts and a rotten apple" Mishloach Manos? Suddenly everyone's an artiste, a cross between Wilhelm Puck and Martha Stewart, and I'm breaking my head to outdo The Frummie Next Door!
I crawled into our friendly (what else?) crawlspace and hauled out the cobwebbed carton marked "PURIM." Slicing through the yellowed cellophane tape, I grew instantly nostalgic upon seeing the multi-colored Easter grass that had hardened in the airless box. Other memory-stirring items included four wooden graggers (Purim noisemakers) with which to drown out the name of our archenemy Haman, six Books of Esther from which we recount the tale, an aquamarine Afro-wig and a Ronald Reagan mask. But what could I use at this late moment as containers for my artery-clogging culinary masterpieces?
Eureka! With a sudden burst of brain-clearing euphoria, I recalled a Purim four years earlier when I thought myself the Neapolitan Julia Child. That year I had designed Mishloach Manos using an Italian theme, packing each red colander "basket" with a box of authentic linguini, small jar of homemade spaghetti sauce, ribbon-wrapped bread sticks, and mini-bottle of Chianti. Each of the eighty packages was enfolded with a red-and-white checked dishtowel. Tres clever, no?
Yes. Quite. Except for the fact that I was living in a new neighborhood and didn't know anyone upon whom I could bestow these gifts other than an elderly neighbor who had once loaned me an onion. Another thirteen accompanied my six children to school as they curried favor from various sourpuss teachers and secular bus drivers.
Four days after the holiday, the dining room table still groaned under the weight of the remaining sixty-seven Purim packages. With less than four weeks until Passover, I was the stunned possessor of sixty-seven boxes of definitely not-kosher-for-Passover pasta and sixty-seven ribbon-wrapped packets of breadsticks. The only positive aspect to the story is that none of my highly allergic children suffer from wheat intolerance . . .
Four years later with the lesson of over-planning still fresh in my mind, I still have many indestructible red plastic colanders available for the packing. Of course, I no longer have sixty-seven. Some were included in indescribably clever wedding-shower gifts; some disappeared mysteriously as I moved from house to house, perhaps stolen by a not-too-discriminating thief. But there are about eleven remaining. How can I be so certain? Because every time I open up my dairy-pot cabinet, all of them fall out of the warped top shelf and hit me on the head.
I still haven't made up my mind as to this year's theme, but I'm getting closer. A "sushi" basket is over-the-top, and I'm not certain I can handle the complications of keeping raw fish cool under a baking Israeli sun. Anything "French" is tricky around here, and I don't want to encourage any wrathful responses to my well-intentioned gift. Deli and appetizing are a little over-budget and, in any case, are becoming passť.
I may, indeed, do a "Baywatch Babe Basket" and let the cultural chips fall where they may. What will I put in this basket? One Slim-Fast snack bar, half of a sand-sprinkled egg salad sandwich, a small tube of zinc oxide for the sun kissed nose, and a warm can of Fresca. Some of them I'll pack in Beach Ball decorated shopping bags.
And the others?
I was thinking about using red plastic colanders.
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JewishWorldReview.com contributor Andrea Simantov is a Jerusalem-based columnist and single
mother of six. Comments by clicking here.
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© 2005, Andrea Simantov. This column first appeared in Orange County Jewish Life