Are We Having Fun Yet?, by Rabbi Deborah Glanzberg-Krainin, Ph.D.

Over the last several years my relationship to Purim has changed. I have come to appreciate the invitation to simply be happy and to play with convention in a contained and bounded way.

Purim used to be hard for me. I started getting tense as soon as the hamentaschen appeared at my local bakery, heralding the approaching holiday and all that it entailed—the costumes, the drinking, the jokes, the silliness. Merriment on demand simply did not work for me. I felt exhausted by the whole endeavor, weighed down by my need for ironic distance yet truly dismayed by how hard some people seemed to be working just to have fun.

Over the last several years, however, my relationship to Purim has changed. I have come to appreciate the invitation to simply be happy and to play with convention in a contained and bounded way. On Purim, I don’t look for joy. For me, joy is an experience of religious import and emotional depth. Joy is how I felt when my children were born. It is how I feel when a summer breeze takes me by surprise, or at Ne’ilah when the shofar is blown. Happiness is easier. It is less complex and less profound, but still one of life’s mysterious treats.

And that is how I approach Purim now. It is a mysterious treat, a chance to grab some happiness in the midst of life’s inevitable sorrows. Distinguishing between joy and happiness helped me enormously, but so did understanding Purim as an invitation and not a mandate. The idea is not to work hard to be happy or to make celebration just another chore on a long to-do list. Rather, Purim gives me access to things that are not part of my regular life—my friends in costumes, my neighbors waving noisemakers, my colleagues irreverently poking fun at each other. This, in turn, gives me access to less explored parts of myself. And all of this makes me happy.