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FOCUS ON FAMILY Thinking about God and goldfish: How one woman relates to Purim

ENCINO, Calif., Feb. 11 (JTA) — My husband, Larry, and I married on Purim, the 14th of Adar in the year 5743. And just as Esther and Mordechai saved the Jews of ancient Persia from Haman’s evil plot to destroy them, so Larry saved me from the tyranny of blind dates, no dates and inappropriate boyfriends. But not once during our wedding, from the signing of the ketubah to the breaking of the glass — not even when Rabbi Bergman expressed the hope that our guests wouldn’t drink until they couldn’t distinguish between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai” — did Larry or I ever imagine we would be spending all our anniversaries attending Purim carnivals. But once again this year, we will be accompanying our four sons to the Purim Carnival at University Synagogue in Los Angeles. The younger two, aged 7 and 9, will be dressed in traditional Purim garb — a camouflage-clad commando and Dracula, respectively. Upon arriving at the carnival, after plunking down enough money at the ticket booth to purchase our own personal Moon Bounce, I will give my sons my customary Purim shpiel: “No goldfish!” You see, we’ve already gone the goldfish route, investing in bowls, dechlorinators and decorative accessories — even investing in more expensive varieties when these bottom-of-the-food-chain fish die, usually by the 15th of Adar. Here is what I’ve learned: * Once you’ve cleaned a goldfish bowl, where one or more fish have been living for at least a week, you’ll never again set foot in the ocean. * Left alone in an enclosed house with no air conditioning for a week in August, goldfish will get ready — explode. The joy of your family vacation will dissipate immediately upon seeing and smelling their remains scattered across your child’s bedroom. But the story of Purim transcends goldfish. It transcends the noise of hundreds of children exuberantly blotting out the name of Haman with groggers, squeaking plastic hammers and ear-piercing hissing. It even transcends the issue of Esther’s intermarriage with King Ahasuerus and the fact that outside of the Megillah, scholars can find no historical basis for the holiday. Indeed, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Purim is that nowhere, not once in the entire 167-verse Megillat Esther, is God’s name mentioned. Like Passover and Chanukah, Purim celebrates the miraculous rescue of the Jewish people from extermination by a more powerful enemy. But the story of Purim lacks any pyrotechnics and awe-inducing spectacles. There is no parting of the sea, no manna falling from heaven and no tiny container of oil burning for eight days. There are no overt prayers for divine intervention. But while the name of God is not present in the Purim story, His work is certainly apparent. For example: * Out of all the young women vying for the position of queen, King Ahasuerus chose Esther, a Jew. * The lot, or pur — after which the holiday is named — Haman drew for the date of the Jews’ destruction was 11 months in the future. This gave Mordechai and Esther the time they needed to thwart Haman’s scheme. * The night King Ahasuerus couldn’t sleep, his pages read from his record book, relating how Mordechai saved the king’s life by uncovering a plot to assassinate him. The king immediately wanted to honor Mordechai. And so, while we Jews may not be cognizant of God’s presence or while we may think that God has abandoned us, the truth is that God is always working in our lives. Sometimes, however, God is working in mysterious, silent and unseen ways. I know this personally. On the evening of May 22, 1982, a single woman of 33, I attended a Jewish federation singles dance at Los Angeles’ Hillcrest Country Club. I was a reluctant and unenthusiastic participant, convinced I would never meet a suitable mate. But at that dance I met Larry. And only a few weeks later I knew I would marry him. I knew it intuitively and indisputably. On that fateful night over 16 years ago, just as in the Megillah more than 2,000 years ago, “venahofech hu,” the unexpected happened. When I was least hopeful, God brought me Larry — this kind, attractive, good-humored and intelligent man, with a shared heritage, shared values and a law degree. Yes, Purim teaches us many important lessons: Goldfish are not ideal pets; you can meet your beshert, or intended one, at a Jewish singles dance; and, most important, God is always watching over us.
Jane Ulman lives in Encino, Calif., with her husband and four sons.