Purim and a Pandemic: a Year of COVID in Our Traditions

We are approaching the anniversaries of when the coronavirus pandemic first began to touch our lives. Some anniversaries will be preserved in history books: “The first U.S. case was confirmed on January 21, 2020.” Others are small but nonetheless significant — the last time we hugged a family member, the last time we saw a live show.

We have each experienced the pandemic in our own unique ways.

Compared to some other historical events, COVID-19 isn’t marked by an acute, frozen moment in time. My dad will always remember when he learned that JFK had been assassinated (he was in gym class). Memories of 9/11 bring me back to my sorority house bedroom, climbing down from a lofted bed and answering the chunky cordless phone.

I think there’s a good chance we’ll share our pandemic stories in a similar way. Where were you when the world came screeching to a halt?

There’s a thing called “flashbulb memories” — a sharp, detailed recollection of personal experience. I imagine mine will be intertwined with the Jewish holiday of Purim, a lively and fun celebration.

The kids run around in costume, are encouraged to make noise, and scarf down traditional cookies called hamentaschen. In 2020, both my kids dressed as Darth Vader. At our synagogue’s annual carnival, they clambered against a glass door, straining to catch a glimpse of the visiting petting zoo. There was a fleeting moment when I wondered if it was safe to be together as a community. A week later, Iowa confirmed its first cases.

Flash.


Photo: child petting a horse at a Purim carnival


Two weeks later, I navigated crowded grocery store aisles, unsure if it would be the last shopping for some time. I took pictures of the empty shelves and spaces that previously held potatoes or toilet paper.  I stocked up on tuna, just in case (we are still working through the tuna).

On impulse, I grabbed cans of Solo poppy seed and apricot filling. I hadn’t made Purim hamentaschen in time for the holiday, but now it seemed we may have some extra time for baking.

Rationally, I know our lockdown began with scary news and working from the kitchen table.

My most vivid memories, however, are of rolling, cutting, filling and shaping hamentaschen. My husband was hesitant to sneak a fresh one until I reminded him we had no one with whom to share the cookies. This was the wild west of portion control. There were no rules anymore.

We would eventually work our way through each batch and I would feel drawn to bake more. Long past Purim, there was still leftover filling, so we continued to roll, cut, fill and shape. The process was a quiet, comforting ritual; it was nice to have control over something.

Flash.


Photo: child rolling hamentaschen cooking dough


Hamentaschen made way for other cookies and activities to mark the passage of time.

I was caught off guard when someone recently asked for a hamentaschen recipe. Are we back here already? It feels too early to be a year since we crowded at the glass doors, excited to make noise and celebrate together. In 2021, Purim begins on February 25. I’m wary of the memories and emotions it will bring up. As with 2020, I’ll turn my attention away from news and work, and bake cookies for my family.

If I’m lucky, that’s what I’ll remember.


Want to bake Purim hamentaschen? Here’s my go-to recipe.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Fillings: my family loves poppyseed, apricot, nutella and chocolate chip!
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Cream butter and sugar
  3. Add egg
  4. Mix dry ingredients and add alternately with milk and vanilla
  5. Roll to 1/8″ to 1/4″ thickness
  6. Cut out 3″ circles using a drinking glass
  7. Fill with 1 tsp. of filling and draw up sides to form triangle
  8. Bake 10-15 minutes

Note: I find this process works best with chilled dough. I portion my dough out and chill any that I am not actively using to roll, cut and shape. I also chill my filled cookies prior to baking so they maintain their shape.

Photo: Hamentaschen recipe eaten during Purim

 

Photo: Hamentaschen eaten during Purim


What is your “flash” memory from the COVID-19 pandemic?

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Susie is a mom of two, student affairs professional, book-lover and frequent challah baker. Originally from Skokie, Illinois, Susie first came to Iowa City for college and grad school. The following decade was full of adventure and moving boxes as she and her husband followed jobs to New York, Illinois and Texas. They were thrilled to relocate “home” to Iowa City in 2016. In addition to working at the UI Pomerantz Career Center, Susie is a PTA volunteer and sorority advisor. She loves date nights in the Ped Mall, catching a show at Hancher or the Englert, and most of all, cuddling her kids on the couch.

1 COMMENT

  1. I remember my last day of teaching at school. Friday, March 13. I told my first period students to make sure they took whatever they might need—I wasn’t sure we’d be coming back after spring break…

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