The Costume Lady: Mrs. Yehupitz Wiggelfield
Interviewed by: Miss Yenem bas Yehupitz Wigglefeld
(My mother spells it Wiggelfield according to family minhag, but I have adopted the Anglicized version and spell it Wigglefeld.)
ruth be told, I was a bit anxious. After all, what could I expect to find in the house of a woman who is known not only for her brilliant and beautiful mishloach manos and costumes, but who runs a full-basement costume gemach for the whole town?
Mrs. Wiggelfield quickly put me at ease. She welcomed me graciously into her living room and served me tea and freshly baked cake on elegant china.
“Mrs. Wiggelfield,” I burst out, “I must ask you. Tell me — do you work?”
“Well,” she replies, with the perfect blend of modesty and pride, “I do work full-time out of the house, and I also run a Neshei, and in my spare time I teach yoga (to underprivileged women) … Of course, this is nothing compared to my true job in life: raising my beautiful children …” Here she pauses and lowers her eyes modestly before continuing quietly, “as well as making costumes, of course.”
I lean forward and speak intensely. “So, Mrs. Wiggelfield … that’s why I am here. Costumes. Mishloach manos. Let’s get the scoop.” I clutch the sides of my laptop tightly.
My hostess becomes transformed. No longer is she the perfect mother, career woman, housekeeper, and do-gooder. Before my eyes she morphs into the creative artist, passionate in the throes of her obvious love for her calling. Inhibitions are thrown aside and the inner free spirit emerges.
In response to my simple, “What were some of your favorite mishloach manos themes?” Mrs. Wiggelfield begins to wax nostalgic.
Paper Bags and Pirates
“My absolute favorite was the year my husband got fed up with Purim themes, and put his foot down on what he perceived to be excess pressure on creative mishloach manos. He said that this year, he was absolutely determined to send an apple, an orange, and a wafer in a paper bag.
“Well, I wouldn’t dare to just give an apple, an orange, and a wafer in a brown paper bag.” (My hostess shudders.) “I had to do something creative with it. Thus was born the Mishloach Manos Guidelines — a spoof on the Chasunah Guidelines that had just come out that year (see sidebar). In the Guidelines, we admonished excess in mishloach manos and promoted paper baggerism.
“I see,” I inserted, “that you try to inject not only significance into your mishloach manos, but a moral message as well.”
Mrs. Wiggelfield seems pleased that I caught on so quickly. She nods emphatically and continues. “Another one of my favorites was the year we dressed as Undercover InvESTHERgators (We Do Shidduchim), on a mission from His Majesty to uncover the origins of the mysterious Queen Esther. The kids wore trench coats, brimmed hats, handcuffs on their belts … and big hairy mustaches. We packaged our mishloach manos in manila envelopes stamped TOP SECRET.
“When we went to megillah at night, a neighbor spotted one of my girls’ mustaches. She said that she had a child desperate for a mustache; would I possibly have an extra …? I sent over one of my kids with a square of the hairy felt from which we had cut the mustaches. She was so grateful that when my son became bar mitzvah later that year she sent over a huge bouquet of roses.”
“Fringe benefits of the profession …” I comment with a smile. “Now tell me, please, from where do you draw your inspiration?”
“Above all,” Mrs. W. responds with conviction, “it always has to tie into Purim, and we like it to be meaningful. The megillah … current events …”
She reflects for a moment. “Then again, there is sometimes one kid who is absolutely stuck on a particular idea, and that becomes the inspiration, whether we like it or not. Like the time one child decided that it was imperative that we had to be pirates … I improvised and shifted that idea to Bad Middos Pirates … (Author’s note: that was a ton of fun!!!) One daughter did not put down her (sealed) whiskey bottle the entire day. Fortunately, I got no phone calls. Maybe the face paint helped …”
I delicately move on to the next question. “When you’re stuck for a good idea, what do you do?”
Mrs. W. laughs. “I ask Daughter Number One, Daughter Number Two, Daughter Number Three, and Daughter Number Four … then we ask each other, over and over and over again …”
“And they,” she adds, “often seem to start from the point of: ‘What costume can we make that includes face paint …?’$$separatequotes$$”
“Do you make the costumes yourself?” I ask tentatively.
“Of course we make the costumes ourselves. We would be mortified to be found in a store searching for costumes. How commercial, how artificial, how contrived!”
I tense at my gaffe, but this remarkable woman continues: “Although, times change and people change … with my older kids, a store-bought costume would have been out of the question. But now, with my youngest, I’m working, I’m busy with shidduchim, etc., and I would be content if she would just find a costume in a store … and as long as she’d be happy, I’d be happy.”
“That’s a beautiful lesson in chinuch,” I respond. “I wonder, though — how much time does it take for you to costume your entire family …?”
“Well, after we take down the succah …”
“Ah, I see. Umm … does your mishloach manos always match your costumes?”
“Oh, they usually correspond,” Mrs. W. replies easily. “Even the year we did an apple, an orange, and a wafer, one kid dressed up as each. I thought the costumes were superb, but we have a picture of them in the playroom, and it seems to be to their eternal humiliation.”
She continues brightly, “Nobody dressed up as the paper bag, though. We learned our lesson from the barber pole [companion to older sister: "Haman the Barber”] and Vashti’s mirror costume [r[reference to older sister: "Vashti”]suffered by one daughter in her tender years. She’s now twenty-two, and still reminds me annually how she couldn’t sit down all Purim …”
“That sounds rather traumatic,” I offer sympathetically. “I suppose now is the time to mention that Family First is publicizing a hotline offering free counseling for those suffering from Theme-Related Anxiety/Depression.”
Oodles of Ideas
“Moving on.…What were some of your harder costume/mishloach manos combinations?”
“Usually everything starts off ‘easy.’ For example, one year we wanted to buy ‘Bambi cards’ (a tzedakah for new mothers). Although it’s very admirable to buy cards for tzedakah and send them as mishloach manos, we felt that in the spirit of the chag, we also wanted to actually give mishloach manos. (“Ma, you can’t just give cards, what will we bring?!”)
“So, what were we going to do with Bambi? One of the kids suggested, ‘Why don’t we say we’re Bambino’s Pizza, and give out pizza?’ We thereupon embarked upon the mission to find the best pizza that would be economical, tasty, and, of course, round. As mazel would have it, when we finally decided on one type of pizza, the store ran out of it, and we had to wait for another shipment to come in. (As you may expect, this nail-biting ‘waiting for the next shipment or run around to find a replacement’ is a standard part of our pre-Purim prep.)
“Then, of course, the question remained: With what shall we package the pizza? We called all the pizza shops in town to see who had the best buy on mini pizza boxes, until the owner of Pizza Plus suggested, ‘Why don’t you just go to my distributer?’ He even kindly supplied us with the phone number. When we drove down to the supplier, I thought they wouldn’t give me the time of day, but the manager at the warehouse treated me like a queen, happily sold me piles of perfect boxes, and even cheerfully loaded them into my car.
“Our next dilemma related to matching the costumes. How does one dress up as a pizza deliveryman? We thought we would have to ask the Target employees for their red shirts … fortunately, we found them on the racks instead … then white aprons from a craft store … each kid painted and personalized their apron”
Mrs. Wiggelfield wrinkles her nose distastefully. “Wait, maybe don’t write all that. Pizza men aren’t so interesting … you have one of those every few blocks.”
“How ingenious,” I comment, trying to follow the thread here, “that you found a way of making a tzedakah donation into a true, um, a true … pizza presentation!” I concluded desperately.
I quickly regained my ground. “Have you ever done anything else that was tzedakah-based?”
My subject’s voice takes on a serious tone. She pauses a moment for introspection, and then finally speaks. “One of our more poignant themes, reflective of the spirit in the air at that time, was a ‘Gush mishloach manos’ because we were all feeling the pain of Gush Katif. We wanted to express how strongly we felt about the Arabs extending their territory ‘miHodu v’ad Gush,’ and at the same time, to raise money for the Gush cause.
“Since orange was the color of the Gush campaign, the younger girls dressed entirely in orange (up to the orange lipstick and socks …). Our all-orange mishloach manos included produce of Gush Katif and gushers. The older girls dressed as women from the moshavim, complete with Israeli tichels and tanned face paint. They went from door to door giving a passionate plea (in Ivrit!) for assistance from “acheinu b’Artzot Habrit,” and actually got some nice donations for the cause …”
Mrs. Wiggelfield pauses reflectively. “We even borrowed an orange tie for my yeshivah bochur. He insisted we check it for shatnez. We thought checking a tie for shatnez was extremely Purimdig, but in fact, the tie turned out to be so full of shatnez, it had to be thrown out.”
My hostess looks me bravely in the eye. “I think he was a bit relieved. He wore his suit and hat. And white shirt.”
I sigh sympathetically. “What can you do? We can’t have them all turn out the way we want … children just don’t seem to fit a cookie-cutter mold … but I suppose we have to allow for individual expression, right?”
I am trying to come up with a way to regain the upbeat mood when Mrs. W. continues happily on her own. “So, as you can see, each mishloach manos starts off as an ‘easy’ one, but there’s invariably a ton of cutting, pasting, and other weird manipulation. (‘You have to stick the feather onto the ink bottle and make sure to do it while the glue is hot and then attach it onto the gold tray, but if it’s for Tatty’s friend, it goes on a plain tray …’) Usually there are one or two kids in the family who stick with it, (‘Ma, it’s three o’clock in the morning and I’m charley horse from sitting.’ ’Go to sleep, sheifeleh, I’m up anyway and I’ll finish sticking the chocolate balls onto the velvet …’) while the rest invariably fall by the wayside …”
The Costumes Downstairs
I’m becoming a bit dizzy. Perhaps it’s time to move on to topic #2. “How,” I ask, “did you come to have a basement full of costumes?”
Mrs. Wiggelfield responds with honest enthusiasm. “Well, I love theatrical things. I’ve always looked at fashion as a form of theater, since, a year or two after something is worn, it’s already so passé that it’s considered a historical period costume. What is a dressy outfit? Just a premature costume! It was, therefore, always hard for me to dispose of items with any potential dramatic value. Anything in my or my kids’ closets that, because of its cut, colors, etc. was too strong to be classic and would soon be dated — I had to keep as a costume. They’re not the type of costumes you’d find in a costume store, but definitely the type of thing you’d find on stage.
“Whenever Purim comes or our kids are involved in skits or presentations, we love to raid our basement. Every play season, high school girls come to visit and poke around for costumes. Of course, you have to have a bit of imagination.… Last week a girl came looking for an old-fashioned outfit for her school play. She walked out with an elegant bright pink skirt and a brightly colored stained-glass blouse. Yes, in the pre-black days we used to wear those things …”
A dreamy look of nostalgia comes into Mrs. Wiggelfield’s eyes. “Ah, for those Days of Color …” After a moment she snaps her gaze forward, determined to focus on the joys of the present. “It’s a delightful feeling to sit in the audience at a play and see the past thirty years of our family wardrobe parading back and forth in front of me. Then I feel vindicated for taking up so much room in our basement with ‘shmattes.’$$separatequotes$$”
“Is this an official gemach?” I query. I mentally picture the Yellow Pages — Costume Gemach …?
“Everyone is welcome to come, but it’s certainly not official,” Mrs. W. responds vehemently. “It’s not professional or presentable enough. Usually it’s just friends or friends of friends.… My daughters and their friends also love playing in the basement putting together costumes and skits. They’re not premade costumes, but rather springboards for the imagination …”
To Theme or Not to Theme
I brace myself for the question. It must be approached with tact. “Do you think that costumes and mishloach manos have spun out of control with too much time and money being invested in themes? Or are you of the school of thought that maintains this is an integral part of the Yom Tov?”
Mrs. Wiggelfield is not at all fazed.
“Well, on the theme of themes … I want to publicly state that every Purim I’m impressed by the myriad and marvelous expressions of simchas Yom Tov that are themeless. There are those that bring so much delight in the form of homemade ice cream, salads, challos, or cakes, as well as those that are a feast for the eyes with beautiful packaging, and those that are delightfully clever. I have a neighbor down the block — I won’t tell you what her last name is, but it’s three letters, starts with a B, and rhymes with clock — she’s come up with a new creative play on her name for mishloach manos every year for the past ten years!
“Personally, I find themes helpful because they give me structure. Once we have decided on a theme, it narrows down the dizzying choices at the supermarket.”
Hmmm … I won’t ask to elaborate on the simplicity of “deciding on a theme …”
“Do you have any advice or tips on themes for very busy mothers?”
Mrs. Wiggelfield turns introspective, and speaks with strong conviction. “Everyone goes through stages where they have to make Purim as easy as possible because energy and resources have to be allocated to other priorities. The year my daughter got married two days before Purim, I hosted the first sheva brachos the next night, right after Taanis Esther. The next day, Friday, was not only Erev Shabbos sheva brachos for us, but also … Purim! That was the year we bought costumes. (How the mighty have fallen.)
“This theme business is not for everyone. I was once in a car after Purim and the lady in the front seat started pontificating about a ridiculous mishloach manos that she had received. She had no appreciation or use for it at all. To my amazement, it turned out that her husband was a friend of my husband, and she was talking about my mishloach manos, for which I had received so many compliments. I was so surprised that I burst out: “That sounds like my mishloach manos!” I don’t know who was more embarrassed, she or I.
“The most important thing as mothers is that the kids are happy. After all is said and done, nobody will have simchas Purim if the kids aren’t happy. The first time my child said she wanted to be a kallah, I said to myself, ‘Where did I go wrong …?’ but I caught myself and put together a beautiful kallah costume (made out of petticoats and my older daughters’ matching lace skirts). The fact that my child got an ear infection and couldn’t wear the costume anyway in no way diminished the simchah she felt in knowing that she had, on Purim, the costume that she wanted, made especially for her …”
“That is certainly a touching sentiment,” I respond warmly.
“Many people don’t have the inclination, interest, energy, or time to get caught up in themed affairs,” continued Mrs. W. “I maintain: ‘Vive la différence!’ Let’s celebrate our differences and our strengths. There are so many different avenues of self-expression, and so many different ways to be mehader mitzvos. The mishlach manos you send does not define you in any important way.
“Some women feel that Pesach is ‘their’ mitzvah. They enjoy knowing that everything is sparkling clean and perfect, and they like to superimpose reorganization on organization. For such people, Purim is a challenge.
“For me, Pesach is a challenge, and I thrive on Purim. I love having decorations hanging from the ceiling in the living room, costumes strewn all over the playroom, and sparkly grass ribbons and cellophane all over the house. I find that exciting. Other people wouldn’t last a day in my house come Purim time … including my husband.”
It’s time to wrap, but I have to ask, “How does your family feel about you sharing the details of your very private Purim family life with the greater Jewish Public?”
“Well,” my interviewee sighs resignedly, “my children sealed off a room in an undisclosed location and stocked it with a month’s worth of meals, in preparation for publication of this article. They don’t plan on coming out until bedikas chometz …”
“And you …?” I prompt.
“Well … now that I’ve described my whole life here, all my friends know who I am. Yes, I feel a little bit self-conscious … but which Jewish mother wouldn’t help her daughter by being interviewed as material for her article …?”
“Well said, Mrs. Wiggelfield, well said! I couldn’t agree with you more.” I stand up and close my laptop.
“Just a minute, dear, not so fast! We’re having a Purim Meeting in the kitchen...” the voice is quite firm.
“Uh, Ma…. my editor… deadline…” I back towards the doorway. “I’m sure you’ll all come up with something great.. Just please make sure it’s something with face paint!”
Call 1-800-SAYNO2THEMES for a 24-hour hotline that helps Jewish women deal with and overcome theme-related anxiety.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 233)
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