Purim from the Outside-In

An Outsider’s Take On Purim’s Public Relations Problem

— Julie D. Bartha

First off, you should know that I am not Jewish. I grew up in the Morrell Park neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized my neighborhood was a Catholic island surrounded by a sea of synagogues. I had never even heard of Purim until well into my adulthood.

When I was a little kid, my parents decided to not raise us within an organized religion. They let us kids seek religious truths for ourselves, and I’ve always been grateful for that. It allowed me to explore a variety of faiths with an open mind. But I was also a little lonely growing up. The others kids all seemed to have a sense of belonging that I lacked.

More after the jump.
I went to public school, mostly with other Catholic kids who couldn’t afford Catholic school tuitions. I can only remember two other Jewish kids in my classes. Elliot Avidan hated me because my mom got me braces for my enormous buck teeth when I was just 9, and when his mom found out, she got the name of our orthodontist and slapped a set of those metal bad boys on his choppers later that same year. (To be honest, his buck-toothed smile was just about the only one bigger than mine back then.) Francine Greenberg lived around the corner from me, and we often played together at her house and mine. But I was always a little jealous of Fran because of our third grade teacher, Mrs. Ginsberg.

Mrs. Ginsberg was my most favorite teacher – in fact, she inspired me to become a writer. (I remember the moment distinctly: she returned my brown construction paper-covered writing journal to me one day after grading it, and said, “I love reading your journal, Julie. You write the funniest stories.”) But Mrs. Ginsberg was also Jewish. And her first name was Fran too. They had that special bond. That year, I so wished my parents had made me Jewish. And had named me Fran.
Outside of Elliot, Fran and Mrs. Ginsberg, the only other things I knew about Jewish people while growing up was that: they read Hebrew from right to left (which I thought was cool), Yiddish words sounded like sneezes; and that Hanukah sounded like a better holiday than Christmas – eight days of presents as opposed to one, of course — until I learned that most of the time, those presents were different colored pairs of socks.
Which brings me to Purim. As a writer with a good deal of publicity experience under my belt, I feel obliged to tell you that you have this ongoing public relations problem. Your holidays are always in the shadow of the Christian holidays. There’s CHRISTMAS! And hannukah. There’s EASTER! And… purim? Even today, as more of the Jewish holidays and culture have become widely known to the general public, very few people know what Purim is, or how it’s celebrated.

I think the problem is in the advertising. Jewish holidays need better marketing. Like a mascot. Or a logo. For Christmas, we have SANTA and a BIG BRIGHT TREE. Now that’s something you can get excited about. For Hanukah, you have some fancy-looking candle holder and that little wooden top. That’s like giving your kid a deck of Uno cards when they could have a Playstation. For Easter, we have a GIANT EGG-HIDING BUNNY. You don’t forget a big giant bunny! That’s a memorable image And a little scary. But for Purim, you have … what is it? A scroll?

The timing is bad too. I know that you have this whole “follow the Jewish calendar” tradition, but positioning Purim so close to Easter creates an unnecessary competition. Consider a fixed date. In fact, this year, you had a golden opportunity to make Purim the hot, happening holiday, and you didn’t take advantage of it.

I understand that there’s a lot of – ahem – merriment associated with Purim. Like Mardi Gras, but with more Manischewitz. St. Patrick’s Day was just two days ago. If more people knew about Purim ahead of time, they could have made a weekend out of it. Everybody I knew becomes Irish for a day. If you can swing juggling the 14th day of Adar so that it lands next to St. Patty’s Day next year, party lovers everywhere will jump at the chance to become Jewish the day after.

The Feast of Lots ends with the unity toast for a reason — nothing brings people together better than drinking.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve made a point of learning more substantial things about Judaism. I’ve interviewed rabbis about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, attended Passover Seders and have come to have a real appreciation for the rituals and sense of community you all share. As an outsider, I’m still a little jealous. I may have a scary egg-hiding bunny to cling to once a year, but I understand that bond Fran and Mrs. Ginsberg shared. You truly have the whole Megilla, in every way that counts.

And now that I know that it’s not a sneeze, I offer, on this Purim holiday, my sincere, heartfelt, L’Chaim! To you. To Fran. To Mrs. Ginsberg. And even to Elliot. Hopefully now that his teeth are straight, he’s forgiven me.

Northeast Philadelphia native Julie D. Bartha is a writer and editor based out of Burlington, New Jersey. Her WordNerdGirl blog can be found at wordnerdgirl.blogspot.com



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