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Masks, musicals and mixology — your guide to virtual Purim

Purim 2021 will be a tamer affair than what we’re used to. While 2020’s festival was the last dangerous gasp of the old normal — replete with mixed drinks and droplets for many — we now know what we’re dealing with. COVID is determined to put a damper on our typical revels.

But then, we’ve had a year to practice the art of socially distant events and we are a stiff-necked people.We’ve all got Zoom accounts by now, and so, the reading of the Megillah continues with a slew of virtual bacchanals. You can scroll (get it?) through a few of the options here.

Get subversive with the “Megillah Cycle”

Beginning February 21, the Congress for Jewish Culture will bring poet Itzik Manger’s 1936 poem cycle of the Purim story to your desktop. It may not be the story you’re used to. Manger plucked Esther from Biblical Persia and dropped her in 20th Century Eastern Europe, and in 1965, the Burstein theatrical family and musician Dov Seltzer adapted it for the stage. The new Yiddish production stars Mike Burstyn (of the original performance) and actors and Yiddishists Shane Baker, Allen Lewis Rickman and Yelena Shmulenson just to name a few. If you ever felt sorry for Vashti — or wanted to see Ahasuerus get sloshed — this may be the Purim spiel for you.

Register and watch here.

Activities for tots, tweens, teens — and their parents who need a drink

While most congregations won’t be offering the usual kid friendly carnival setup — I miss hurling stuff at Haman and winning a goldfish in a bag — you can still dress up, hear of Esther’s tiumph, play bingo and bake some Hamantaschen. For fun for a few generations, we even found an event that features a DJ, storytelling and cocktail (and mocktail) workshops.

Spiel for charity with some big names

On February 22, the Met Council will Livestream “Purim: Funny Story,” featuring the talents of Susie Essman, Judy Gold Bob Sagat, Howie Mandel and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and Bari Weiss (I really want to see what her contribution will be — and hope it involves Triumph). Proceeds go to the Council’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

Jeer Haman and cheer Esther — in Yiddish

The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene will present three days worth of Purim programming, kicking things off on February 22 with a selection of Yiddish Purim songs. Because they’re all about drama, they’ll also present the original Purim Shpil — the earliest form of Yiddish theater. For those who like their Purim boozy, Wednesday will feature the inaugural episode of the “Hava Tequila Cabaret” with performances by cast members of the Folksbiene’s Yiddish “Fiddler” and “The Sorceress.” The cabaret is just cocktail hour for Thursday night’s reception, a simkhe with a reading of the Book of Esther (in Yiddish, obviously) with a cast of international readers, a performance by the Litvakus Klezmer ensemble and a presentation of Purim artifacts from the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Tune in and see the lineup here.

Wear a different sort of mask

If you want to ditch the N-95, there’s no shortage of mask tutorials and printable templates online — mostly for kids. But if you feel ambitious, you can always hop over to Pinterest and try your hand at modifying the pandemic’s must-have accessory. Baby Yoda and Pikachu patterns will probably play well at your virtual Purim party — though they will inhibit drinking.

Question that problematic ending — “Avenue Q” style

It’s easy — and convenient — to overlook Chapter Nine of the Megillah, where the Jews are granted permission to kill some 75,000 non-Jewish Persians in a preemptive maneuver to avoid an already rubberstamped Jewish genocide. It’s a big old yikes at the center of a festive holiday. Temple Israel of West Bloomfield, Michigan, did a Zoom-style interrogation of that off-putting dismount of Esther’s tale of perseverance in the form of musical theater. It’s well worth a watch and a ponder, but may not be quite as child friendly as the puppets suggest. But then, maybe the Purim story in its entirety isn’t either!

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].


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