An Un-Pinterest Worthy Purim

Two years ago, when my oldest started at Talmud Torah of Minneapolis, she came home angry when she realized we hadn’t delivered any mishloach manot. It’s something you’re supposed to do she informed us. Last year it came up again just before Purim so I decided to throw something together. I get nervous about doing things the ‘right’ way when it comes to religion, but I knew I could excuse any mistakes on letting the kids take the lead.

I looked up the basic requirements and saw that while hamentashen are traditional, they are not required. Hamentashen are my favorite cookie, but I am not a skilled baker, and the idea of presenting friends with the burnt misshapen attempts of my past didn’t seem appealing. I decided to wing it and dug into our cabinets. The kids and I made dark chocolate chia seed muffins because I had all the ingredients in the house already. We put them in plain brown paper bags and tossed in some pennies, a small orange, and a note. The children were pleased and the effort was appreciated.

This year, I put it on the calendar to start thinking about it a month ahead of time. Putting together and delivering mishloach manot plays well into my organizational skill set, but when I knew I was going to be documenting the process I realized I’d never really read the book of Esther. I’ve only attended the megillah readings as a parent, usually stepping out when it got too loud for small ears — or my own. I began to wonder why do we deliver mishloach manot? How is it connected to the story of Esther? I sat down and read the book of Esther, and while I now have three pages of notes and questions, I didn’t get the answer I was looking for. Next, I turned to Pinterest and boy was that a mistake. The amount of thought and attention to detail some people put into their baskets is truly amazing. It certainly felt like there was a ‘correct’ way to go about this, and I did not feel up to the challenge.

After a few days of sulking, I decided to embrace my shortcomings and focus on what I am good at. I’m good at letting my kids do their best and not over correcting them. I need to have the same expectations for myself. This year’s mishloach manot do not need to be specifically fancier than last year’s. The point is the act of giving and the experience for my family. What are we good at? We’re good at vegetables. We’re good at being generous.

Sunday: The kids and I sat down and came up with a list of our friends we’d like to deliver to. I stopped them at 20. I put all our friends in a spreadsheet with their address and any allergies I knew about.

Monday: I made up ‘Happy Purim’ labels and the name/address of each of the deliveries that would make keeping them organized easier. When they got home from school I set them down with brown paper bags, the labels, some spring themed rubber stamps, and markers and let them go to town. They did about half that first day, then one or two each day and finished up Sunday morning.

Tuesday: I decided on the ‘menu’ for our bags. I also took note that Passover was six weeks away, so if I could also use up stuff I already have in the house I could consider that a win. I decide I’ll make hummus and cut carrot sticks, make squash muffins (I used a recipe from the Washington Post) and include an orange and two honey sticks, plus the traditional two pennies.

Wednesday: I cooked a lot of garbanzo beans. My homemade hummus is pretty good if I do say so myself. I check other ingredients and make a shopping list.

Friday: I make hummus and tahini almost every Friday for Shabbat, so it required very little extra effort. I had found small condiment containers on Amazon and they had already arrived, which was one less thing to stress about.

Saturday: Muffin Day! A friend came over to help and we made 7 batches of muffins – one gluten free and the rest regular. The kids helped with one double batch and then got bored. After the kids went to bed I wrapped the muffins in plastic wrap tied with yarn then shoved them into every nook and cranny of our two refrigerators.

Sunday: I peeled and cut the carrots and scooped the hummus into the containers. I laid out everything on the table before letting the kids be involved in assembly. After lunch, we loaded up the car and set out. It was a much longer day than anticipated. The first bunch of houses the kids were excited to jump out of the car and ring doorbells, hoping someone would be home. By the end, it became more like ding-dong-ditch as we raced against the sunset. We left our house at 1:43 p.m. and didn’t get back until 7:23 p.m. stopping once for gas and once for dinner. We put 133 miles on the car, driving from Plymouth to Rosemount to Woodbury and everywhere in between. We might scale back next year.

My biggest piece of advice for anyone wanting to start this tradition is to start small, both in what you’re putting together and in how many you deliver. My hope is our treats have brought our friends a bit of joy, and no guilt if they can’t reciprocate. Purim is a holiday I never really celebrated as a child. I’m starting to appreciate the freedom that gives me to find my own meaning in things.

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Orit Ackerman is a TC JewFolk Guest Author

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