Kiki Lipsett as Esther in the 2019 "Irreverently Yours, The Shushan Queens" Purim spiel at the Starline Social Club in Oakland. (Photo/Courtesy Kiki Lipsett)
Kiki Lipsett as Esther in the 2019 "Irreverently Yours, The Shushan Queens" Purim spiel at the Starline Social Club in Oakland. (Photo/Courtesy Kiki Lipsett)

Purim reminds us how to heal hearts through laughter

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We in the temperate Bay Area do not experience the kind of deep winter freeze typically found back east or, now, even in Texas. But after a year of pandemic lockdown, separated from friends and family, cooped up with the kids, the cats and Zoom, we can state with confidence that a thaw is coming.

Coronavirus cases nationwide are plummeting. Vaccination rates are rising. Congress is soon to pass a giant rescue package that should significantly bolster the economy. No, we’re not at the end of the pandemic tsuris, but we can see it from here.

How perfect, then, that Purim has rolled around to lift our spirits. Recalling the story of Esther, Haman and the triumph of good over evil, it was the last Jewish holiday in 2020 before the virus shut us down. Even though we must celebrate virtually this year, we detect a puckish attitude out there, a desire to get loose and silly and have a few laughs, serving both as a release and a harbinger of brighter days ahead.

Our story this week highlights several kooky local Purim spiels coming up, including perennial favorites the Shushan Queens, with a music video heavy on satire and jokes. At San Francisco’s Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, they’re planning a virtual Purim costume party to go along with the reading of the Megillah, and then some: a clutch of commentators, dubbed the the Purim Pundits, will weigh in, no doubt dissing and dishing in real time. The Peninsula JCC will do its Purim celebration as a drive-in, dress-up-your-car event, with honking car horns standing in for noisy graggers.

These are only a few of the local Purim parties slated this year. This enthusiastic embrace of the holiday is yet another sign of our community’s resilience and unshakable faith in tradition.

Our story also highlights an aspect of Purim not universally known. The holiday is actually a two-day chag, starting with a one-day fast known as Taanit Esther. Why fast? Because, as Rabbi Gershon Albert of Oakland’s Beth Jacob Congregation explains, it’s “about revealing the vulnerability in the human condition. There is vulnerability, but the next day there is the joy of having survived to celebrate.”

Perhaps that’s why the tradition of mishloach manot, the handing out of small gifts to family, friends and neighbors, is also part of the holiday. We cannot fully enjoy any celebration unless it embraces others. This tradition will carry on, another leading indicator that we will survive this dark chapter in human history.

The thaw is coming. We wish you and your family a joyous, boisterous and safe Purim.

J. Editorial Board

The J. Editorial Board pens editorials as the voice of J.