When I was a child, I would hop out of the car with one of my mother’s brightly colored Purim baskets and run up to the houses of our family friends. It was always fun to ring a doorbell and bestow this special, joyful gift. Perhaps my costume was admired, or maybe I was patted on the head, but more than likely I was greeted with a grin of anticipation and thanked for the gift of my mom’s truly legendary hamantashen. (These are the kinds of hamantashen people call about the next day. “Where did you buy that cookie dough?” they asked. “What did you do to that filling to make it so good?” or finally, “Can I have the recipe? I just can’t wait until next year.”)
Like many of the mitzvot of our chagim, my mother taught me well. My sisters and I don’t pick a theme for our mishloach manot, because our mom never did and still doesn’t. “The theme is Purim,” we chortle to each other. Not that there’s anything wrong with the amazing themed gifts I see every year from friends. Themes are fun and often funny, but it’s “Purim-theme” or bust where I come from.
I like to think my mishloach manot packages, with the obligatory homemade hamantashen, are like my mom’s, legendary in my husband’s office in Manhattan, where, unlike in Teaneck, we know that, at least in a couple of cases, our mishloach manot are the only ones received. When I think about the fact that my basket or bag or box is the only Purim gift someone might enjoy, I make sure to prepare it with extra care.
So I’ve grown up knowing that special kind of feeling to be a shaliach (messenger) on Purim day. But last year, as I trudged through that March snowstorm to make my deliveries of 30 canvas bags adorned with the Project Ezrah logo, I knew I carried something that would impact people even more than my mom’s hamantashen.
“Why didn’t you deliver yesterday? You knew we’d have a storm,” a friend shouted out her window as I drove by. But I shouted back, “Because today is Purim, not yesterday!”
Today is Purim and today Project Ezrah is taking the profit they made from the halachically kosher (simply, yet classy!) mishloach manot packages they sold, and turning them into matanot l’evyonim, to help ease financial burdens for those who need it. Both mitzvot are specific to Purim day, and I feel responsible to hold up my end of the bargain as the shaliach.
Plus, for all I know, the people who are helped are my neighbors, but these neighbors are not thinking about hamantashen today like I am. They are thinking about how to pay the bills. They are not thinking of themes and costumes. They are thinking of the mortgage payment that’s late, or the water bill, or a hundred other things.
And today, I have a chance to volunteer for an organization that gives back so much more than we know. I am proud that we are featuring the volunteer work of 8-year-old Nava Siegler on behalf of Project Ezrah this Purim (See cover), and I am proud to partner with Robert Hoenig, Susan Alpert, Jeff Mendelsohn and all the staff of Project Ezrah, who honor the memory of Rabbi Yossie Stern z”l, the organization’s inspirational founder, and work hard every day to make sure that our neighbors can make ends meet in a dignified way.
Today, as I walk around my neighborhood delivering mishloach manot on behalf of Project Ezrah, I walk tall and proud as an enthusiastic volunteer for an organization that must exist here in Bergen County, to help families get back on their feet after financial crises. I am inspired daily by the important work of this unique, special organization, and I am happy to set aside special time on my Purim day for Project Ezrah.
It’s not too late for you either! Project Ezrah needs your help with deliveries next year, and it’s never too early to sign up! Visit http://www.ezrah.org to learn more, or like Nava, partner with Ezrah to devise your own chesed project.
By Elizabeth Kratz