| Family First Feature |


If there aren’t enough societal problems? We make ’em up. Here, our columnists tackle some of the most pressing issues of the day

At Mishpacha, we’re all about telling you how to lead your lives, solve your problems, and mitigate crises in the frum world. And if there aren’t enough societal problems? We make ’em up. Here, our columnists tackle some of the most pressing issues of the day

After living in a basement apartment for years, we just bought our dream home! I’m so excited to host our family for Purim; it’ll be amazing to finally be the hosts instead of the perpetual guests, staggering in from the car, covered in graham cracker crumbs and apple juice.

My kids are so excited for their cousins to trash the rooms I just finished cleaning for my sisters-in-law, I’ve been stocking my freezer for weeks, and I want to show my dining room off to its best advantage by setting it up beautifully.

I plan to copy the amazing “Forest Fairy Tale Tea Party” tablescape you featured, and have already purchased all of the artificial moss, willow branches, and chirping canaries that I need. My only question is how many inches I should allot per person. I’m not sure how much space the tree stumps will take up, and I want to know if we’ll all fit into the dining room, or if I should extend the tables into the living room.

Esther Kurtz responds:

Ugh, all your plans sound terrible. People are horrible, family is annoying, and I can’t imagine anything more awful than needing to host so many people at the same time.

You’ll need to call them before the party, talk to them the day of the party, and then probably deal with the hungover ones the day after the party. I’m sure life could get worse, but I’m not sure how.

Luckily it’s not too late — let them all know now that you’re so sorry to tell them this, but unfortunately something unexpected came up and you had to move to Alaska. Then draw your blinds and celebrate Purim the way it was meant to be celebrated: alone.

(P.S. When I say to tell them about Alaska, I obviously mean by text. If Hashem had wanted us to talk on the phone, He would have created us with receivers implanted next to our ears.)

Hi! I looooove the man-riding-an-elephant costume you featured in your DIY costumes article. It’s so creative, and since I started in Kislev, I should have the time to finish every one of its 1,437 steps. But I was wondering, do you think I should sew or just use a glue gun to connect the pieces of felt? I’ll have a new theme next year so I don’t need this to last forever.

Leah Gebber responds:

1437, Transylvania.

Another drop falls into the bucket, ripples outward, and the water surface bubbles precariously close to the top of the bucket.

Drip. My eyes dart upward, tracing the path the small droplet had taken, and I once again see the jagged hole in the meticulously researched material used to craft roofs of our time, whatever that is.

Beside me, Mama sighs as she plies her needle, up and down, in and out, through the much-mended fabric of Leibele’s trousers. But I have had enough of her sighing, so I rise to stir the soup, pulling my shawl tighter about me as I stand. There is no money for kindling, but at least we have some old onions and potatoes to make the broth that must suffice as our breakfast, lunch, and supper. Tablescapes will not be invented for another 500 years, and so we must eat upon splintering boards.

Mama sighs again. Psychology will not be invented for another 200 years, but even without the term’s official definition in any textbook, this woman is as passive-aggressive as they come.

I turn to her.

“Yes, Mama?” I ask, my voice as soft as I can make it in this font. “How might I be of assistance?”

“The candle,” she points. “Can you position it slightly closer to me? In this dimness, it is hard for me to make out my stitches. But still, I would not cease from sewing — there is no glue nor fastener that can serve in its stead.”

My brow wrinkles. I am not sure what Mama means — glue has not been invented yet, either — but I have long since come to accept the fact that Mama’s words, while beautiful, can be oblique. Still, I am sure that I will come to understand them with time, and in several chapters.

Whenever I open your magazine at this time of year, I am forced to react in shock, horror, and shocked horror. Your recipes, fiction stories, personal essays, ads, divrei Torah, and feature articles both create and perpetuate — in an impossible, cyclical paradox — an ever-spiraling set of standards that threaten to tear asunder the fabric of our society.

Why must every upsheren have a theme and tablescape? Why would someone serve hand-dipped chocolate truffles pizzas instead of potato kugel? Whatever happened to the good old days, when shalach manos consisted of a simple, homemade bilka with grape juice, placed in a bag reading “Simchas Purim,” and delivered with love?

Family Table responds:

Wow! We love the idea of giving a themed “Good Old Days” shalach manos, and we’re sure 150 of your closest friends and family will as well. Grape juice and homemade challos are a classic pairing that will never go out of style and will always have a place on our Shabbos tables.

Upgrade your challah by thinking way ahead. Make sure to get a natural sourdough starter going at least one month in advance, and make your dough with truffle-infused olive oil for that little something extra.

As always, presentation is everything. Try a 14-strand braid to give your rolls that “wow” factor your shalach manos deserves. And go crazy with toppings to really make sure your challahs stand out.

Artisanal grape juice is the perfect accompaniment that fits the throwback theme to a tee. Try hand-pressed unfermented wine in handblown glass bottles with raw butcher paper labels.

We love the idea of using a “Simchas Purim” bag — it lends the perfect retro feel to this nostalgia-inducing package! Consider sourcing vintage fabrics on Etsy (a bag is easy to sew once you find the right materials) for the perfect authentic texture. Because you most definitely want to take your package to the next level.

Purim’s always been a tough time for me. My trendy wealthy sisters-in-law all turn out the most gorgeous shalach manos, with elaborate themes that coordinate with their kids’ costumes, of course. Each package is a work of art, and their hallways are lined with these adorable family portraits with the entire family beaming in their matching costumes.

Me? I’m frantically curling ribbons and dealing with ripped cellophane as the doorbell rings. We can never manage to get in a family picture, which is fine, because if we did, it would just show the kids bickering in their clashing costumes with chocolate-smeared faces.

So when Adar rolls around, I always get a pit in my stomach. I know it’s not my kids’ fault that this time of year awakens all of my feelings of inadequacy. I need to work on embracing my reality instead of pining for another one… but how?

Sara Wolf responds:

As the winter months drag on, it’s no wonder our kids start getting antsy, and the endless days indoors start to feel interminable. Luckily for us, those long afternoons give us plenty of time to explore Mommy’s crippling feelings of inadequacy, and who better to do it with than those who see you at your worst!

This game can start early, at 7 a.m. when your first child wakes you, sobbing that you’ve run out of the good cereal. This makes for a natural segue to our first game, called, “That Time Mommy Didn’t Do the Thing Every Single Other One of My Friends’ Parents Did and Ruined My Life Forever.”

When that’s done, your kids will enjoy an art project, so let them loose on your photo albums! Each child can make a collage of all the pictures in which he or she looks terrible, or is unhappy, or was having a miserable Chol Hamoed trip, which was so unfair because everyone else went to Great Adventures. Younger children are encouraged to explore their feelings with mixed media, crafting drawings to indicate all the photos you only took of their older siblings and not of them. Make sure to remind them to save their drawings to show their therapists!

End the day with our Ooky Recipe Corner, a.k.a., supper. Invite each child to share their true feelings about the supper you slaved over. Remind them that they can always eat cereal if the thought of Shabbos leftovers is that bad. (Lock yourself in your bedroom before they remember that all the good cereal is gone.)

I loved your recipe for Maple Glazed Roast with Caramelized Shallots and Artichokes, and hope to serve it as my main for the Purim seudah. But I was wondering, do I caramelize the shallots with avocado oil, or can I use a heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil for that?

Faigy Peritzman responds:

Like every Erev Shabbos, I was spending my day by the stove, where I hoped the clamor and hiss of the pots boiling over would distract me from my riotous rowdy rambunctious rapscallions.

But my hopes were dashed less than one paragraph in, when Yitzy wandered into the kitchen. “Mommy,” he asked me, “can I tell you a heartwarming, feel-good story with a classic only-in-Israel feel? It will probably feature some of my more maddening mischief and impish antics, but I’ll try not to tell the one about the time my rebbi said—”

“Sure,” I hastily interrupted him. “Just let me read part of the devar Torah first.”

Yitzy disappeared into the yard, no doubt to tinker with some old appliances he’s accumulated or play with some preposterous pet he’s been pampering, reappearing only when the maamar is safely finished. I hate when he does that. And by now, he’s lost his stream of thought.

“What’s a shallot?” he asked, wrinkling his nose in distaste.

I served him a plate of steaming potato kugel and winked. “Nothing you need to worry about in this wholesome, traditional column, that’s for sure.”

I can’t decide which theme to use for Purim this year. I was thinking of dressing my kids up as doctors, with a build-your-own doughnut kit that includes syringes filled with blood-looking jelly and a prescription for blood pressure meds, but is that totally overdone? I could do a Dr. Seuss’s zoo theme, but my twins are sick of dressing up as Thing One and Thing Two. What should I pick?

Abby Delouya responds:

It’s totally normal that you’re having a hard time picking a theme. I can tell — from your posture as you typed this e-mail and the position of your fingers poised above the keyboard — that you truly wish to solve this problem, and I’d be honored to help guide you.

Let’s discuss your marriage, parenting approach, shidduch experience, childhood traumas, and which prenatal vitamins your mother took, so we can arrive at the best way to treat your problems.

“How long does it usually take you to pick a theme?” I ask, in my most nonjudgmental, nonthreatening manner.

“Well, so, last year, when I did the beef jerky, I—”

I make up my mind. I think I should utilize the EMDR approach to help release the trauma you must be harboring within that’s causing you to have such a hard time reaching a decision. “Watch my fingers,” I say, as they fly over each other, tap-tap-tapping. “Look at them very closely.”

“But — I’m not — which finger?”

“There’s no time!” I keep up the pace, my fingers moving so fast they’re almost a blur. “We need to solve your problems before the end of the article! I’ll explain more in a sidebar.”

Purim’s a great day for camaraderie, for joyous celebration, for communal seudos, and elaborate shalach manos swaps. When I look out my window, I’m confronted with laughing groups of children and dancing bochurim, while music and laughter provide an ongoing soundtrack to the day. But they only serve to remind me of the aching emptiness of my own home.

I went from being GO president and dance head to living in a development with only 17 of my closest seminary friends. I have never felt so lonely or friendless in my life. Plus, Mali is going to her in-laws for the Purim seudah, and I bet she won’t even drop off shalach manos on her way out.

How can I overcome my bitterness and make Purim the joyous day it should be?

Esty Werblowsky responds:

Bitterness is just one short step away from depression, and we all know the best way to treat that: chocolate! With its endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin, chocolate is the unsung hero that allows us to quash our emotions with a brief sugar rush that’ll leave its permanent imprint on our skirt size. So, what are we waiting for?

Loneliness is one of the most painful emotions imaginable. A simple bag of Kliks just won’t cut it. For this type of hurt, we need the good stuff. But my nosh cabinet’s looking kind of bare after I made all my shalach manos (hey, some of us have friends!), so a few of my kind neighbors offer to help me out.

My first stop is Mindy’s, where she eagerly hands me a bar of her favorite indulgence. I must admit, no one does it quite like the Swiss. This salt-studded, caramel bar of milk chocolate goodness is definitely a great pick-me-up. It would be perfect, but its Pesach associations leave me feeling slightly queasy. Next!

Tzivi proudly points me in the direction of her stash, which she calls the real deal. You know, 90 percent cocoa, dark chocolate. Don’t kid yourself — this is what the doctors are talking about when they recommend a square a day. What, you thought healthy could actually taste good? Think again.

Bashie needs to climb up on a chair to access her chocolate stash, which is hidden on the top shelf in her pantry, in a box labeled “Canned Chickpeas.” There’s nothing foodie about her PesekZmans and Kif-Kefs, but their simple, almost innocent flavors leave me with a childlike sense of wonder… and a child’s lack of appetite.

It’s almost time for supper, but my day of adventures has left me no time for cooking. I’ve realized, though, that even more than the chocolate, my visits with Mindy, Tzivi, and Bashie have restored my faith in humanity. So if you really have no friends, I’d recommend making some.

You can’t have mine, though. I already ate all their chocolate.

One of my favorite annual jaunts is my shalach manos-planning excursion, when I prowl the aisles at my local paper goods store, Amazing Savings, and the Dollar Tree, checking out all their latest offerings and figuring out what I’ll be giving that year.

I pride myself on crafting jaw-dropping packages that are my own invention, not ripped off of the frum magazine’s shalach manos supplement, as if everyone hasn’t already seen those.

But all of my sisters keep telling me that I should start buying my supplies on AliExpress for a fraction of the price. I know that I’m just buying the same stuff, at a 200% markup, but there’s something about getting to see and touch the products that just gets my creative juices flowing.

Plus I hate having to order my stuff on Chol Hamoed Succos to ensure that it makes the transit from China on time. What do you think I should do?

Elisheva Appel responds:

With the plethora of shopping opportunities that abound, it’s no wonder that your average frum housewife feels slightly confuddled when it’s time to create her shopping list. Should she go budget or high-end? Translucent or tinted? Precut or custom? And that’s just the cellophane!

Here, with a carefully responsible and neutral tone, Family First speaks to our community’s most noted mechanchos, rabbanim, therapists, and party planners to hear their thoughts on one of society’s most pressing issues.

“I always use the cellophane bags in the 6”x3.25”x13.5” size,” says Rebbetzin Leah Wachsler, whose home-baked biscotti are a Purim highlight in her Lakewood enclave. “I like having a few inches at the top to show off the coordinating chiffon bow. They come with adhesive pre-applied, but I prefer tying them with a ribbon for some understated, affordable elegance.”

Psychiatrist Dr. Naama Neuman disagrees, noting that online shopping offers an added degree of anonymity that makes many women feel more comfortable. “Plus, cellophane bags are so 2007,” she adds. “I advise all of my patients to utilize Lucite boxes for a more transparent, vulnerable feel.”

“You see?” Debbie,* a generic respondent crafted to feel relatable to a wide swath of readership, makes an aggravated gesture. “This is why we’re so stuck. The conflicting advice, the pressure… I think we’re just going to go to Miami this year and give out those tzedakah cards.”

But are preprinted donation cards really an acceptable way to fulfill the mitzvas hayom? Family First turns to the Meikiler Rav for his response.

“Don’t ask me any more questions about shalach manos!” The Rav throws his wise hands up in submission. “Themes, schmemes. I know this is a trick question.

“You don’t want to hear that you only need two minim, you want my go-ahead to spend three weeks in a crafting and baking frenzy, and you want me to convince your husband that not only is this normal, but he should deliver all of these packages and make sure to hold them all perfectly level as he does it so that nothing falls apart. You don’t need daas Torah, you need a psychiatrist!


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 683)

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