And so, here we find myself at the end of another week. This Shabbat, I’m in Georgia as part of a 5 day visit with my family. It’s good to be home and around the love and joy of my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and my darling niecelet, Mackenzie.
Despite being in Georgia and less able to continue my (now) Friday ritual of baking Challah, praying and writing, it was important to me to bring spiritual thoughtfulness into erev Shabbat. Thankfully, earlier this week I was given a sign about how to do so from a new blog I’ve been reading- The Shiksa in the Kitchen.
The author Tori Avey, is also a convert to Judaism. Her posts are a perfect combination of Jewish history, personal experience and instructionals (recipes, crafts, etc). And, her beliefs about food and community echo my own sentiments. I love her writing and thinking.
This week, on the lead up to Purim, she posted a series of instructional blogs, with one being about how to make Mishloach Manot baskets. This Shabbat is Purim, a Jewish holiday that remembers and celebrates the day when the Jews residing in the Persian Empire were delivered from destruction at the hands of Haman. Today, the holiday is celebrated with feasting (or as my boyfriend would say, “They tried to kill us, we survived, and now we eat!”), sharing gifts of food and drink with other Jews, and making charitable donations to the poor. As it says in the book of Esther,
As the days wherein the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day: that they should make them days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor. (Esther 9:22)
The feasting and drinking of Purim is oft extravagant and, being that I’m not drinking alcohol and that I’m concerned about my weight, that part of Purim didn’t match with my need to close out the week on erev Shabbat with quiet thoughtfulness. But, I did want to learn about and be thoughtful of the holiday.
And then the Shiksa posted about making Mishloach Manot baskets. Perfection.
For those new to Purim, Mishloach Manot baskets are given as gifts to family and friends within the Jewish community. As Tori notes, these baskets are “a symbol of friendship and the strength of the Jewish community. To give a Mishloach Manot is considered a mitzvah – a commandment and good deed…The charity is given in order to ensure that the recipient has enough food during the Purim celebration.”
Being down in Georgia, I wanted to share this experience with my 4-year old niece Mackenzie. Our families (mine and my sister-in-law’s) have histories of giving. My parents regularly participate in Homes for Heroes, my brother’s mother-in-law is a fundraiser for Children’s Miracle Network, and this Christmas my brother and his wife participated in Project Shoebox as a way to teach Mackenzie about giving to those in need by packing up a shoebox for a child her age.
I decided to adapt the idea of Miscloach Manot baskets to create baskets for the local no-kill animal shelter, PAWS Humane. Mackenzie is sister to a lovely 8-year old border collie (Darwin), I have a rescued shepherd mix (Bryson), and my parents have a pitbull rescue (Pia) and a retriever mix rescue (Josie). So, abandoned and rescued animals is a concept she can relate to through a real-lived experience. Also, in the South we have a surprisingly low number of no-kill shelters. It’s important to me, as an animal-lover and proponent of social justice, to support these programs that struggle to rescue, shelter, and permanently house all vulnerable animals.
I called PAWS in the morning to ask what their highest needs were for in-kind donations and found out that they needed dry puppy food, wet kitten food, and cleaning supplies. Chatting with my mum about the project, she asked if she could participate and offered to help buy puppy food. I was thrilled!
So, on Friday afternoon I picked Mackenzie up from school and I asked her if she could help me with a very important project. I explained that this weekend was Purim and that on this holiday, Jewish people (like Mr. Korrie) celebrate by helping people who need food by giving them baskets. Then I asked if she wanted to help me by putting together a basket for the puppies and kittens in Columbus who don’t yet have forever homes. She was really excited! We went shopping first for cleaning supplies (paper towels, trash bags, and bleach) and then for food. We picked out two types of dry puppy food and two cases of wet kitten food. Mackenzie also picked out a packet of cat treats and some rawhide dog bones “for the puppies and kittens who have been good and needs a treat” (her words- not mine). We also bought a thank you card (which Mackenzie signed) and a box of chocolates for the staff and volunteers.
We packed up our wares into large bags and headed to the shelter. Once there, we were met by three staff who helped us bring our gifts into the shelter. And then, to Mackenzie’s delight (and mine too, let’s be real), we were taken on a private tour of the shelter. We visited three cats (we loved petting Midnight and Snowflake) and then three dogs (including Riley and Koa). Before we left, we said thank you to the staff and gave them a small check for unrestricted expenses (being a fundraiser and program manager in non-profit, I truly believe in supporting unrestricted revenue development)
Mackenzie had a great time and, of course, wanted to bring a cat or dog home. We had a conversation about how we cannot rescue every dog and cat ourselves, but that we can give the shelter food, supplies and donations to help them take care of the animals until they can find forever homes.
It was wonderful to share this experience with Mackenzie, and it’s something I’d like to continue as an annual tradition. Personally, I had to do a lot of reflecting before taking on this charitable giving this month. Being unemployed, I’m living on just over 50% of my previous income. I’m making tough decisions every day about what I spend money on- gas, groceries, medicine- never mind going out or giving myself treats. But, living on less has also put me in touch with what’s important. I’m not buying shoes because I’m feeling self-conscious about my weight. I’m not “popping out for a Starbucks” to make my work day feel better. I am thinking about what’s important, urgent, and necessary. What will add to my life meaningfully instead of just filling in the gaps.
To be able to celebrate Purim in this way, I made the decision to take the tax-return money I’d usually spend on a present for myself and give it to PAWS. It was an easy decision to not buy anything for myself; though still nerve-wracking to not just put all of the return into my savings account. I don’t *need* anything right now. I don’t *have* to have a treat. But, it is important for me to continue reflecting on my spirituality. It is important for me to build memories with my niece. It is important to me to share positive values and ethics with Mackenzie. And, that those values and ethics can bridge the Jewish traditions that I’m learning with the Christian traditions important to my brother and sister-in-law is especially important. I see these things as an investment. And so while 20% of my tax-return money isn’t building my savings account, it is helping to build my community, expand my relationship with my niece, and offer a new dimension to my spiritual journey.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach!