Our Purim plans are hanging in mid-air right now, thanks to coronavirus. Our school’s Purim carnival was canceled, and while services are still on and school is open — the anxiety is high. Definitely no bobbing for apples this year.
With some New York-area Jewish day schools closing in recent days, there’s a lot of discussion (some serious, mostly humorous) in the religious-parent chat groups I belong to about how to approach the prospect of being home with kids for the holiday, whether in self-quarantine, or even just for precautionary measures.
We had thought to go to family in Philadelphia for the festive meal on Tuesday, as we do every year, but now we are deliberating, thinking to stay inside, just to be safe and not expose others to our New Yorker germs.
So, what are we all going to do if Purim is, essentially, canceled by coronavirus? How do we infuse our children with the joy and festivity of this holiday, which is normally so dependent on communities coming together?
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Here’s my to-do list, compiled with the help of other concerned Jewish moms — united via Facebook groups, Instagram stories, and a healthy sense of Jewish mother’s paranoia:
Dress up even if no one’s watching: Though I knew our Purim carnival would likely get canceled, I still got my kids Purim costumes. Even if it’ll be a quieter holiday this year, they deserve the fun of dressing up as the firefighter and Minnie Mouse they’ve been asking for for the last month.
Read the megillah like it’s 2020: Just because you’re stuck at home doesn’t mean you can’t listen to Esther’s story live. Tune into a live-stream of a megillah reading with your kids. And remember to follow along in the text, too.
Read the Purim story together — and act it out. Let the kids play dress up with your clothes, fashioning ancient-Persian looking robes from old dresses and costume jewelry.
Practice charity: It’s a mitzvah to give charity on the day of Purim to someone in need. So make charity into an educational activity with your kids: Discuss with them the importance of giving, tell them the charity budget they have this Purim, and offer them a few options of causes you’d like to donate to — and let them decide how to divvy up the money properly. It’s a great exercise in general, but Purim offers a particularly timely opportunity to practice it.
Virtual dance party: In Wuhan, those in quarantine relied on video chat to avoid isolation — with people going so far as “cloud clubbing”, night-clubs set up virtually, with people joining in on dancing in their apartments via Douyin, the Chinese TikTok. So why not do the same with friends and their kids? My friend Leah Nagarpowers suggested throwing a communal Purim dance party via livestream hook-up — here’s a playlist to start with.
Mishloach manot: If you’ll be giving the traditional gift baskets to friends and family, make sure that you use only packaged foods, to limit potential transmission. (Side benefit: Save time not baking homemade hamentashen!) And if you can’t leave the house — give to one another!
For the first, uh, five minutes, there’s always print-out-coloring pages.
But what to do afterwards? This year, we’ll be making our own masks — try either something a little more simple, out of paper plates, for the little ones, or a more involved craft for the older kids.
Dr. Ariela Greenberg, an educational researcher, suggested setting up your own Purim carnival, with stations like tossing a ball or a bean bag into a container, or face painting (Amazon has this set for $9.99). A lollipop tree, balloon burst, sand art, and a ring toss are all easily replicated at home.
In the kitchen:
Prepare the Purim seudah (festive meal) together. Even if it’s just your immediate family gathering — and even if it is considerably more low-key than previous years — think about how to make it different from just another dinner.
Some traditional foods to consider, that are easy to make with kids: Stuffed foods (like dumplings, meat empanadas), tacos and my personal favorite, Chanie Apfelbaum’s kofta-stuffed dates. For lower-maintenance foods — think triangles, a la hamantaschen — bourekas (using puff pastry and whatever vegetables you’ve got in your freezer), or simply fruits and veggies cut into triangles. (And if a simple treat like mac n’cheese is what gets your kids excited — stick to that, mom and science teacher Arielle Blum Zomberg reminded me.)
If you’re a baker, try these homemade edible groggers, courtesy of Rebekah Lowin, which involve candy glass (yes, that’s a thing!) and let sprinkles make the noise.
And if you’re like me and hate baking because it reminds you of 10th grade chemistry — take Esty Wolbe of Kosher.com’s advice and pick up some store-bought cookies and color them with marshmallow paint.
Animate your Purim
Any seasoned parent knows that when all else fails, turn on the screens.
For little ones, this two-minute Shalom Sesame retelling of the Purim story is great. If you’ve got a LEGO-obsessed child, try this Purim video (12 minutes long), told through LEGO characters. If your kids understand some Hebrew, and are still at the age where princess costumes and dancing clowns can mesmerize — take the opportunity for them to brush up on it here with “Rinat and Yoyo”, the beloved Israeli kids’ show, which mom and educator Zahava Stemp recommended to me.
And remember, when the going gets tough for you, and it’s 4 p.m. and you’re done for the day — there’s always, always, wine.
How to do Purim at home with kids, in the shadow of the coronavirus
Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt is the Life/Features editor at the Forward . She was previously a New York-based reporter for Haaretz . Her work has appeared in the New York Times , Salon , and Tablet , among others. Avital teaches journalism at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, and does pastoral work alongside her husband Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt in New York City.