Celebrating Purim, for me, starts with hamentaschen.
As you may ask, “is it because you love The Great British Bake Off?” Yes, I do. But also, it goes much deeper.
I started baking hamentaschen with my mom in preschool. While my sisters were in school, my mom would pick me up from preschool and take me over to the kitchen at the synagogue, where we would bake hamentaschen for the community.
Our fearless leader was The Hamentaschen Lady, Greta. Greta still has the most incredible hamentaschen recipe, and it is the recipe I continue to make every year. While I’m not sure how helpful I was, I felt this wonderful sense of responsibility and community even as a 3-year-old child.
This is when I learned about baking. This is when Greta taught me the secret to always use a spatula to get every last bit of the dough from the mixer, reminding me that it would come together to be enough for an extra cookie. And I was always amazed to find that it was true.
This was a special time for me, not just spending it with my mom, but learning to be part of the synagogue community as a whole. This began my love for baking.
Every year, my mom and I continued baking hamentaschen together.
In middle school, we joined a few of my mom’s closest friends making hamentaschen for the community. It was an opportunity to hang out with my family-friends. Over time, I perfected my folding and pinching technique so my hamentaschen wouldn’t open in the oven.
As a young adult, I taught religious school, and I wanted to bring the joy of baking hamentaschen to my 7th-grade class. I created a project where the students would bake hamentaschen with me at school and bring in treats with which we created mishloach manot.
We created these mishloach manot to deliver them to local elderly or ill community members of the synagogue. Before this, the synagogue had never delivered mishloach manot. Together, the students and parents dropped off mishloach manot for these grateful community members.
It was so special to me to share my joy of baking hamentaschen as I taught my students how to fold the hamentaschen. It was meaningful to everyone to create something and then deliver it to others.
I remember one particular delivery was made to an elderly congregant who was surrounded by her family. They were so appreciative of the effort and care. We found out the following week that the elderly congregant had passed away the day after the delivery. The family later expressed to the rabbi how cared for they felt during a challenging time. The students were powerfully impacted by this experience of community caring for one another.
Now, as an adult, I continue to make the same hamentaschen each year.
I take pride in sharing my hamentaschen with friends. (It doesn’t hurt hearing how delicious they are.) I may now make a few tweaks, like putting chocolate and peanut butter together for a filling, but Greta’s recipe is the same.
But, it was when I lived in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, it was the first time as an adult, that I really took on the mitzvah of delivering mishloach manot. All throughout Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, on Purim, community members would run around delivering mishloach manot to friends. Being a part of a community that exchanged mishloach manot so seriously lifted this holiday to a new level for me.
Every year, I smile remembering the warm feelings of time with my mom, my community, and sharing the love of hamentaschen with others.
This is my first Purim as a parent.
While my baby might not be able to hold a spatula, I have been thinking about this tradition as I’ve gathered my hamentaschen ingredients. I cannot wait to teach my daughter to make hamentaschen, just like my mom taught me. I hope to create this as a special tradition for the two of us.