Pandemic Purim: New Yorkers celebrate the holiday

Vodka and hamantaschen for when the reading is over.
Vodka and hamantaschen for when the reading is over.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

The word “megillah” has definitely entered American slang.  According to Merriam-Webster, it is defined as a long involved story or a complicated production.   But, coming from Hebrew, “megillah” actually means scroll or volume, and is likely to be used in reference to the biblical Book of Esther, which is read aloud at Purim celebrations.

In a much-abbreviated explanation, the Book of Esther, tells the story of the power-hungry evil Haman who insinuates himself with the King of Persia and plans to kill all the Jews, a plot foiled by Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai.  

A holiday when costumes and drinking are festivity essentials, Purim can possibly be called the Jewish version of Carnival jubilating in this thwarted scheme. 

Pandemic or not, New Yorkers celebrated the holiday last Friday.

In Crown Heights, costumes on the street are integral to the holiday.Photo by Tequila Minsky
Astronauts in Crown Heights for Purim.Photo by Tequila Minsky
Yehuda Pevzner brought authenticity for observing Purim to Soho.Photo by Tequila Minsky

Abundantly available in bakeries around this time, holiday hamantaschen are joyfully eaten. Said to be shaped for the three-cornered hat worn by “bad guy”  Haman, triangular cookies are filled with the traditional mohn (poppy seed)  or lekvar (prune jam). The name translates as Haman’s pocket.

Moishe’s Kosher Bakery on Grand near East Broadway —its original location at Second Ave. by E. 7th sadly closed two years ago—soldout their hamantaschen,  offering the traditional fillings plus a slew of varieties—raspberry, apricot, chocolate and mango. 

Traditional filling in the hamantaschen at Moishe’s Kosher Bakery.Photo by Tequila Minsky

Correct holiday adherence specifies hearing the whole story— read from the Megillah scroll, in Hebrew—potentially taking 20 minutes. In years past, Mitzvah Mobiles traversed city streets offering  Jewish New Yorkers a chance to hear the whole Megillah. 

On the sidewalk outside of Thompson Chemists on Thursday night, socially-distanced observants listened to the lengthy Megillah reading, booing at the sound of the name of Haman. 

Yehuda Pevzner brought friends and a Megillah reader from Crown Heights in order that Soho residents could celebrate properly, rewarding participants with hamantaschen and vodka afterwards. This is the second year the Megillah has been read at the pharmacy, which during non-pandemic times is known for its bi-weekly country western musicales. 

Plays called Purim spiels—satiric, comic or theatrical parodies also accompany the holiday. The downtown Jewish congregation Lab/Shul produced a “Preposterous Pandemic Post Patriarchal Prophetic Purim Portal.”

It’s Purim artist-in-residence Elana June Margolis with Lab/Shul’s team of ritualists and radicals crafted a fresh narration of the Purim story with an online evening of decadent and deranged offerings.

A rapt audience, many costumed, in the comfort and safety of their homes, delight in the banter and brilliant performance narratives.Photo by Tequila Minsky
Rabbi Amichai (right) revived Rebbetzin Hadassah Gross speaking from the Queen Esther Retirement Home.Photo by Tequila Minsky

By Zoom to an audience of well over 550, many costumed in their living rooms, performers transmitted an inspired and awe-worthy production. 

Rabbi Amichai revived his drag queen persona Rebbetzin Hadassah Gross speaking from the Queen Esther Retirement Home. There were a slew of Esthers during this multi-hour— briefest intermission included—“R” rated production. 

The night of raucous revelry continued for another hour with a post-performance DJ-driven dance party, still on Zoom, hosted by Bushwick’s House of Yes. 

One knows that Purim is a serious holiday when in New York alternate side of the street parking is suspended. With obligingly mild February weather, in more observant neighborhoods, costumed residents spent the day delivering baskets of Purim foodstuffs for a grand time to be had by all. 

With tiarras, dressed as Queen Esther, mothers and daughters listen to the Megillah begin read.Photo by Tequila Minsky
Reading the Megillah outside for safety and fun.Photo by Tequila Minsky
Noisemakers are sounded when the name Haman is read.Photo by Tequila Minsky