I regret that I am not a storyteller of the caliber that will truly do justice to this story. No matter how I try to recreate this — please keep in mind — it was better.
So a few weeks ago, Nancy called with a job opportunity. “Debbie” is having a dinner party for about 50 people and would like some help serving food. Easy enough. I call Debbie that night to get the details. We set up a meeting that week, so that I can find her house and we can go over how everything will work that night. Before I met her — and only had her voice as inspiration — I pictured her looking like Carmela Soprano.
When I originally talked to Nancy on the phone about the party, she said Debbie insisted that the dinner party was a “celebration”. So we tried to figure out what the celebration was and looked on every calendar we could find to see what “celebration” would be going on. The only thing we could find was the fact that there was a full moon that weekend. So, naturally, we decided that I was going to serve dinner to a party of witches. After speaking with Debbie myself, I found out that it was not a howl-at-the-moon party, but rather a Jewish holiday called Purim. Nancy and I looked up Purim on the internet and got really excited about my upcoming adventure. Go ahead. CLICK HERE.
So that week, I go to Debbie’s house — and the fun began. I am greeted at the door by a woman with the reddest hair I have ever seen, standing no taller than 4’8″ or so, and about as wide. She introduces herself as Dobi and immediately starts talking 90 miles an hour. I am looking around at her home and notice a few things. In the living room, where a typical house would have furniture like couches, a TV, coffee table, etc. there is a massive dining room table. This thing could seat 20 people. Tall, straight-backed chairs. No TV, no other furniture. (Now that I think about it, I didn’t see a TV in the whole house.) But immediately to my left as I walked in the house, in the corner where I assume a dining room table is intended to go — under the chandelier — is a couch and several tall bookcases. I glance over the books and see that 100% of the spines are written in Hebrew. I look through to the kitchen and it looks like she is cooking for 50 people! There are boiling pots on every burner, cutting boards covered in vegetables, mixing bowls everywhere. And it’s noon on a Wednesday…
So Dobi is telling me about the party and bustling about — and tells me that the actual party will be taking place “next door”. Ok. So she gets a key, leads me out the back door of her house, through her backyard and we arrive “next door”. Now, it’s not uncommon for people to have a pool house or a mother-in-law house out back of their home. These people have a synagogue! So we go in and it’s like a little apartment — full kitchen, bathroom, and the ‘Great room’ that is set up with tables and chairs like a banquet hall. This is where the party will go down. She tells me she cooks every week for Saturday services and they eat and worship here. I learn later that it’s not a synagogue, but a Chabad. (I later find out from their website that theirs is one of only two Chabads in Arkansas.) We run into Dobi’s husband Mendel — the Rabbi — who’s home for lunch and thanks me repeatedly for helping them with the Purim celebration. He has a full, long black beard and wears a tall black hat with a wide brim. (This is also what 90% of the men in the photos inside the house look like.)
So I get the lowdown from Dobi about the party and go back to work. The whole time I’m thinking, ‘Nobody is going to believe me.’
Fast forward to Sunday, March 4th. I get to Dobi’s house at 3pm. The Purim celebration is scheduled to start at 4:30. Dobi greets me at the door and immediately starts talking and hurrying around. There are red-headed children running around speaking Hebrew, again the kitchen is ablaze with cooking — there are several women in there now, all helping with the cooking. After informing me that there are now over 70 reservations instead of 50, Dobi presents me with a large vat of pink smoothie-looking stuff she refers to as ‘ambrosia’ and asks me to ladle it out into individual cups — 80 of them. So I sit at the massive dining room table and start dishing out ambrosia — and this gives me a chance to take in what is going on around me.
I feel like I have been dropped off in the middle of another world. From what I can gather, this celebration is a hybrid of Mardi Gras and Thanksgiving. Dobi appears to be cooking for an army, the kids are running around getting dressed in costumes that look like something I wore as a Wiseman in a Live Nativity at Christmas once, I see Dobi carrying around a basket of something I would soon learn are ‘groggers’ (noisemakers like we use on New Year’s Eve – picture below), there is a girl in the corner wrapping gifts — everyone was busy. And here I am, English-speaking Protestant that I am — taking it all in. At least I have a good Hebrew name and it’s not totally out of the question that I belong there — in fact, later in the evening I would be cornered by a little old man who wanted to quiz me on my Hebrew grammar!
So the next 4 hours of my life was truly surreal. Most of what happened — happened in Hebrew — so I was completely lost as to the content of the celebration. (Dobi’s housekeepers — who were there to help me plate food and whatnot — spoke only Spanish…) There was drinking — I watched them open (several) bottles of wine, scotch, etc and pass the bottles around the room. There was a juggler! He juggled fire and singed the carpet at some point which set off the smoke alarm for several minutes — this made the children and drunken Jews alike very whiny and fussy. And there was food for days — when Dobi was describing the menu to me she was having to actually describe each item as the words don’t translate into something that would mean anything to me. For example, try describing “hamburger” to someone without being able to use the word “hamburger”. It sounds silly. So the food was over my head. The Megillah was read — and accented by bouts of the groggers. Apparently the masquerade part of the celebration isn’t regulated so much — there were people in costumes ranging from princesses and clowns to wizards and Dr. Seuss — some people just had random sequins sewn to their clothes. People came from all over the country to attend this Purim celebration. They gave each other gifts, drank A LOT, ate a lot, sang songs — it was quite a party.
I left at 7 something — having had the single most ‘out-of-my-element’ evening of my life. Dobi seemed very pleased with everything and asked if it was ok if she keeps my number and has me help her again. I can’t wait for her to call me.