No Substitutions

As soon as my daughter and I opened the shop door, I knew. This was the place. The little store in the suburban mall that my friend Chana Leah née Kagan had so often described. The wrought-iron bird cage near the entrance, the antique cash register on the dark green counter, and most of all, the man behind the counter with his slim beard, generous white eyebrows and deep, crinkly smile. “Are you Chana Leah’s Tatty?” He nodded, and the smile grew more pronounced. “She looks so much like you.” He smiled again.

I felt a sense of gentleness and peace in this person who had survived the immense, indescribable ravages of war.

“We’re looking for something nice, semi-sweet, for a special mishloach manos,” we told him.

He gave us a quick education in wine, which ranged from $12 for a standard bottle to fancy products at prices that reached Alpine heights.

In walked my childhood classmate Gila, whom I buttonholed. “Do you have any suggestions for wine for someone we want to show appreciation to?

“Me?” she laughed. “I know nothing about wine. I’m here for amaretto for a cake I’m baking.”

We browsed; it was fun and educational. We found wine from Teveria; from Italy; from Borneo and Brooklyn. Even something called “vegan wine.” (Is any wine non-vegan? Okay…) We settled on a cabernet sauvignon with a sleek label.

As Gila watched us peruse the displays and boxes, she balked at one sign. “$163? For real?”

I thought it was probably a stock number.

But no, Mr. Kagan assured her. That was the price of that special number, a thick bottle of crystal-clear wine resembling vodka.

“Who would spend $163 for one bottle of wine?” she wondered.

“Tell me,” he challenged, leaning across the counter. “Can you understand a lady spending more money for a better pocketbook than for a cheap one?”

“Well… it depends how much more.”

“Let me tell you something,” he confided. “My wife once redt a shidduch and the people were very happy. So happy, you know what they gave her for shadchanus? A pocketbook that cost $10,000.”

Hmmm, 10,000 — sounds like Purim. Oh, that was pieces of silver, not dollars, sorry.

In any case, he had our full attention now.

“How did she know how much it cost?” we wanted to know.

“The lady put the receipt inside- in case my wife wanted to return it.”

“Please tell me,” said Gila, “that she returned it.”

“Yes, of course she did.”

Gila laughed. “I’d rather get a $5.00 pocketbook with $9,995 inside.”

We all agreed on that one.

Mr. Kagan stocked miniature bottles of amaretto, and we bought a couple of those because amaretto cake was sounding very, very good.

And also because it’s Adar, and Haman couldn’t destroy our ancestors in 127 lands, and Hitler’s plot to “liberate” the world of our people was foiled, and no matter what that wild woman in Congress spouts, and what the ignorant world says, we sing teshuasam hayisah lanetzach and shekol kovecha lo yevoshu v’lo yikolmu.

Whether we hail from Boro Park or Lakewood, Michigan or Monroe.

Whether our men attend tischen, farbrengens, Rav Kahn’s shiurim, Rav Don’s shmuessen or Rav Schechter’s maamarim.

Whether we’ve touched $10,000 handbags or serve just one delicious dip at our Shabbos table.

Purim is a time of blurring distinctions, of not knowing the difference, of feeling the oneness of who we, His beloved nation, are. Uncorking the sweet wine of happiness and hope, letting it flow through us full force, as we await our final deliverance.

L’chaim tovim ul’shalom.