At 10 am it all began. We had gathered at Beit Shalom to celebrate our 1st ever Rabbi-led Purim service & reading of the megillah, including Lucy, who was joining us for the 1st time but was known to some of us.
The rabbi set the tone for those who had donned fancy dress by appearing as the enigmatic Miss Match (a clever play on the word mismatch) &other costumes ranged from a walker – no guesses for guessing the identity of this member – to Gainsborough’s masterpiece The Blue Boy,dressing-gown clad members who reminded me of smoking jacketed post-prandial port in the smoking room for the men/chat in the library for the ladies in days gone by, to those who shunned fancy dress & turned up as themselves on the premise that their real-life fashion sense could be described as fancy. However my favourite was the yarmulke which came with a small, handsome, lovable Border Terrier attached underneath!!
The service began with a wonderful prayer chosen by Shirley & after some wonderful singing of several Purim Zemiros led in her usual understated manner by The RaBab all of which were totally new to me we were ready for the main purpose of the morning.Speaking of days gone by earlier, we were provided with football rattles of the type which filled the crowded terraces when all games kicked off at 3 pm on a Shabbos & one listened attentively on the wireless for the results if one wasn’t at the match. The Rav gave us the choice of hearing the whole Book of Esther or using the wonderfully devised Not the Ganze Megillah – But Enough To Know The Story summary of each of the 10 chapters. No prizes for guessing which version the assembly chose!! Each of us read out the summary of each chapter & there was some confusion over the cheering of Esther & Mordechai’s names & the booing & football-rattle rattling to drown out that of Haman with one member in particular suffering from premature rattling!! Our leader was wonderful in reading out excerpts from the actual scrolled megillah when called upon & totally excelled when, as is the custom, she read the names of all of Haman’s 10 sons who were hanged in one breath!! The highlight of this part was Jimmy reading out the final chapter -a wonderful way to end this part of the proceedings.
Then it was on to Beit Shalom’s signature after-the-service camaraderie over food. As usual the ladies did us proud with cakes ranging from large chocolate ones to my personal favourite, chocolate crispies, & of course the traditional Purim delicacy of hamentaschen. All that was missing was a nice cheesecake, however that was remedied when Martin arrived with Joyce & the said cheesecake.
As if the intelligent conversation around the table wasn’t enough our leader had prepared a quiz of 3 rounds to test our knowledge or lackthereof which was done either as team or individually for Rounds 1 & 2 & only by oneself for the last round, the 1st of whichcomprised 8 questions under the heading Silly and Serious Purim Quizette, the latter word not being a word, which I’ll come back to in a minute or two & a representative question being – Who is never mentioned in the Megillah? a. G-d b. Hadassah c. Bess d. Esther The answer is of course G-D & Bess. Part 2was a 30-word crossword , the best/worstone being 17 across, Name Esther’s father? With the 2 cross letters leaving the solution A–H— the correct answer was A–H— as we do not know, Esther having been brought up by her uncleMordechai. At this stage Lucy & Peninah were a point ahead of myself & Mireiile so it was all down to the final round.
The Rav in her wisdom set us the task of finding all words of 3 or more letters in the word HAMANTASCHEN in 2 minutes with her phone being the arbiter of what constitutes a kosher word as opposed to CSW, Collin’s Scrabble Words which contains every allowable word in Scrabble present in the form of your reporter. The sigh of disbelief was audible from everyone bar one, in fact, this affected one of our number so much that they thought it was ONLY 3 letter words to be found!! After 2 minutes were up yours truly read out his 53 words & those duplicated were crossed off to give a score.
Despite thefinal resultnot upsetting the form book I can categorically state a wonderfully, joyous time was had by one & all & if there was a better celebration of Purim at any shul of any of the many strands of Judaism worldwide I’d like to have been there. It only remained for the dishes to be washed, the left over food to be distributed & for us to wend our ways home. The 2 Purim customs of bringinga half shekel raised £15 which was used to buy food for The Peoples’ Kitchen in Newcastle which provides food for the homeless, and bringing food for the poor which Lucy & I put in the food box in Sainsbury’s in Gosforth, were kept. Finally the average age of the kehillahwas lowered by Benjamin & Riley who sat quiet as church mice throughout the formal part of the morning making up for it in spades later especially with the large hat Joyce was wearing!!