Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

The Upside-Down of Purim

Mayim gets introspective about Purim, and how this fun Jewish holiday also reawakens her grief
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 03/12/2017 at 1:18 PM EDT

[Photo: Queen Esther denouncing Haman / Ernest Normand]

Purim. Everything gets turned upside down on this holiday. Indeed.

Purim is a celebration unlike any other in our religious tradition. It is our only holiday with no reference to God in the liturgy. It is the only holiday designated for merry-making, drunken revelry, and even cross-dressing.

We tell the story of a Jewish Queen, Esther, who hides her Jewish identity until an evil advisor of her husband’s threatens to annihilate the Jews. Esther bravely uses her feminine ways and her feminist sensibilities to confront the King and ultimately save her people.

In an instant, death becomes life.

Purim also marks a critical turning point for modern Jews, as it falls one month before the laborious and monumental festival of Peach (Passover). And so Purim, for many of us homemaker types, signals the countdown to removing all leavened products from our homes, cleaning every cabinet and appliance in the house, replacing dishes and pots and pans and utensils used all year with Pesach-friendly versions of them, and turning our houses upside down.

For me and my family, Purim means a countdown to the anniversary of my father’s death. God bless his soul, his soul left this world on the final days of Pesach.

And so this preparation is a march towards the inevitability of acknowledging my father’s death again on the day that he died. For the second time.

It’s not that I forgot this was coming. Grief has not been a stranger to me. Grief was my constant companion for the first year; living in my cells and replacing my sense of normal with every breath I took.

This second year has been one of readjusting to life on life’s terms. Grief has not been my constant companion in the same way and I have found some joy again. But the loss of my beloved cat and the loss of other beloveds has made Grief return to me. Joy has been turned upside down in a heartbeat – in the skip of a heartbeat, really.

Grief may slip into the shadows but in an instant Grief returns to me.

I enjoyed Purim very much this year. My mother and I baked hamantaschen (traditional triangular Purim cookies) with my boys. We went to hear the megillah (the Book of Esther, which recounts the story of the holiday) read, and enjoyed a “Hamilton”-themed Purim spiel (comedic play) at a synagogue we like very much. We also went to a carnival.

But hovering and waiting, is Grief. Waiting to bring me Pesach and candles and memories of frail hands, shaking hands, clasping hands, hands beating upon a chest in a final declaration of sins and weakness.

V’nahafoch Hu*. It can all be turned upside down right now. Love, loss, joy, pain, Grief, longing. It is all there.


Grief, I know you’re still there.


*[The term “v’nahafoch hu” is from the Megillah and refers to a situation in which what happens is the opposite of what you were expecting to happen. For more, read here.]

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