Purim morning as a child felt like what I imagine Christmas morning feels like for those who celebrate. My mom ran a gift basket company, and Purim morning was when she would turn those talents towards her family. Placed carefully next to each of my siblings’ doors overnight was a personalized Mishloach Manah, a Purim gift basket, filled with our favourite foods and things we wanted. For example, one year, the “basket” was a new bag for my baseball equipment filled with Wacky Mac, candy, and other yummy treats. Another year, it was a build-your-own-box construction project, and when I was in university, I received a large salad serving bowl, which was a staple in the many Shabbat meals I later hosted. Receiving these Mishloach Manot was not only about the contents; it was about my mom uniquely connecting with each of us, seeing each person as an individual and packing each basket with love.
My siblings and I were not the only ones to receive Mishloach Manot like this from my mom. She crafted thoughtful baskets for our friends and family, both near and far. Purim was the craziest time of year for my mom’s business, and our house was filled with boxes for at least a month, yet, she always found time to specially craft packages for friends and family. Even after she left the gift basket business, she continued to make these Mishloach Manot until the year she died. No matter where I was in the world, she always made sure I had a unique, personalized basket for Purim. She often travelled to visit me before Purim and made sure to have mine completed to have something to open on Purim morning. This love and dedication led me to mimic her approach to Mishloach Manot as well.
In January 2019, my mother died, and I knew Purim would never be the same. When many people were thinking about reading the Megillah or hosting elaborate parties, I reflected on my mom’s legacy of Mishloach Manot. In her memory, I organized a shiur to teach about my mom and the power of Mishloach Manot. Additionally, I organized making and delivering gift baskets to elderly and poor members of my community. This project was an opportunity to teach others about my mom, her values, and how we might transform our Purim experience. In 2021, when meals in person were not possible and communities felt distant due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the message of Mishloach Manot felt more critical than ever. These baskets were an opportunity to build community and connect with others when connection was almost impossible. Giving a gift is an opportunity to demonstrate that you see and appreciate someone. As we come out of the pandemic, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on rebuilding the lost communities. By utilizing the idea of Mishloach Manot embodied by my mother, I hope to build a stronger and more caring society.
- Rabbi Ben Shefter, Senior Jewish Educator, McMaster Hillel