As a public school child in the 70’s, my Valentine’s Day often ended in tears. I remember digging into my optimistically large brown paper bag in first grade to find only three envelopes, even though my mother had insisted I fill out mass-produced cards for every child in my class.
“No one likes me!” I cried. “Why did I give so many cards?”
“Valentine’s day is ridiculous” my mother snapped, and handed me a foil wrapped chocolate.
As a happily married adult in 2018, I still have little affection for this holiday. (No, Valentine’s day, I don’t “choo-choo-choose you.”) My husband is both wonderful and decidedly not romantic, and as Jewish day school graduates, my kids’ only real connection to the holiday is sweeping up all the sale candy for our mishloach manot baskets.
Which brings me to Purim. I love teaching my daughters to make my great-grandmother’s hamentashen recipe. I love laying out a delicious assembly line across the dining room table to fill gift bags, and I love delivering to friends, neighbors, colleagues and teachers. And, let’s be honest, I love receiving mishloach manot. Believe me – it’s not about the treats – our community is famous for swapping expired items from the discount natural food store in town. It’s about feeling…..loved.
When my girls were very little, before we found our place in the Jewish community, we almost never received any mishloach manot. They were too little to care, so I saved plenty of hamentashen and candy for them, and I understood that our friends, whether Jewish or not, did not celebrate this Purim tradition. We were paying it forward.
Within a few years, we had friends who actually asked for my hamentashen recipe so they could start baking their own, and at least a few would show up at our door with Northampton style mishloach manot. (Think lots of organic lollipops.)
This year, once again, we packed up upcycled bags with hamentaashen, homemade chocolate chip cookies, Werther’s caramel candies, and fair-trade chocolate bars. We began delivering at synagogue Wednesday night and continued through they next day. And, we received….,one. Just as many as we needed, frankly, given the amount of baked goods and candy still in our house. But few enough that my inner first grader emerged.
“No one likes me!” I cried. (Silently, of course.) And, for a tiny minute, I might just possibly have thought “Why did I give so many baskets?”
That grouchiness simmered for longer than I care to admit. Until my younger daughter turned to me and said, angrily, “We shouldn’t give to people who don’t give to us.”
And then, I had to become a grown-up again.
“You know what?” I said. “I know it’s really fun to get mishloach manot, but there are lots of reasons people might not have made mishloach manot or given them to us.” (“Remember?” I thought to myself. “There are lots of reasons.”)
“For me,” I said, “the fun part is giving. It feels really good.” (“Remember?” I said to myself. “Remember all those smiles?”)
“I hope you’ll grow up to do kind things for people because it’s the right thing to do, not because you expect something in return.” (AHEM, I thought to myself. GROW UP.)
I gestured over to the dining room table. “Want a hamentashen?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said. I grabbed a prune-filled, she grabbed a brownie-filled, and we nibbled on my great grandma’s hamentashen. Which happen to be my favorite kind, anyway.