I think it’s a very New York thing to be occasionally suspicious about your neighbors. Or maybe I’m just trying to justify my own paranoia. Either way, it was just last week when I walked into my apartment building and suddenly halted in my tracks at the sight of this picture, taped to the door of the ground floor apartment.
A hanged woman was rendered by a child in Crayolas. She wore a triangle shaped hat and held a spade in her hand. The Hebrew writing was indecipherable to me. I was totally creeped out.
A little background: The tenants of this apartment are relatively new to the building. The first time we met, I was bounding down the stairs with my dog Rocco, following the dizzying smell of hot cinnamon buns. It was so intoxicating that I felt like Bugs Bunny when he would levitate on the scent of good food and fly in the air toward the source—which, in this case, was the open door of the ground floor apartment.
“Those cinnamon buns smell ama-aazing!” I said in a dopey, brown sugar haze to the woman who stood there wearing her coat and holding a tray of the magical buns wrapped in foil. Rocco lifted his snoot, nearly gulping the air, and then suddenly pulled on his leash in her direction. I held on to him, but the woman looked down with utter disgust, stepped back inside and slammed the door. Hard.
Since then, whenever I’m with Rocco, she scowls at me. She has instructed her children to run past Rocco as fast as they can, which basically guarantees he will bark at them, but try explaining that to an eight-year old running for his life. Once, I heard her telling her kids not to even look at us! A better version of me tries to believe she’s just being a good mama bird protecting her baby birds from perceived danger. But on most days, I think she’s just kind of a jerk.
To top it off, her oldest son has been told the story of that fateful day three years ago when Rocco earned the nickname “The Knish Thief.” During a game of kickball in the apartment lobby, Yehuda observed Rocco and I walking past and said to his new buddy, “See that dog? I hate that dog. Back when I was a little kid, that dog stole my knish.”
Given my strained relationship with the ground floor apartment, the figure of the hanging woman disturbed me. I didn’t really believe that it had anything to do with me, but I couldn’t imagine why a kid would draw a picture of a hanged woman or why (even stranger) his parents would tape it to their front door! It was spooky. I snapped a picture on my cell phone and sent it off to my Hebrew-reading friends.
Their swift, bemused responses told me that the text reads, “Happy Purim.” The hanging figure was not a woman, but Haman, the bad guy in the story of Purim, a Jewish holiday akin to Halloween. On his shirt, Junior had inscribed “The joy of Purim.” What a weird relief.
On Purim, which will be celebrated this Sunday, young children dress in costumes and trick-or-treat for candy and toys. Purim originates in ancient Persia with the story of Queen Esther, who ascended to the throne as genocide was about to be inflicted on the Jews by the evil Haman. Enthralled by the Jewish queen’s beauty, the king Ahasuerus spares the Jews and instead hangs Haman and his ten sons.
Enlightened and enamored by the happy ending, I stopped to admire the drawing of Haman’s defeat. I particularly appreciated the artful border of triangles that echoed Haman’s hat and was then struck with an unexpected revelation. Like a scene out of the Da Vinci Code, the word Haman and the triangles formed and merged in the air above my head into an image of one of my favorite treats: those jam-filled cookies that I periodically binge on. Hamantaschen!
To confirm that hamantaschen were indeed a Purim treat, I leashed up Rocco and walked to Gideon’s, a wonderful old kosher bakery owned by octogenarians. Despite the thriving orthodox Jewish community in Washington Heights, Gideon’s is the very last bakery from the days when the neighborhood was called Frankfurt-on-Hudson and was home to a big community of Jews who had fled Nazi Germany. Inside the sun-filled bakery, two children sat doing their homework at the counter while an elderly Russian woman relaxed in a small chair next to trays piled high with dozens of hamantaschen.
I bought a half dozen of Haman’s hats and ate them all before the night was out. (It is my favorite cookie, after all.) This morning, I went back for more and found they had much larger ones which, unlike the miniature ones, are only baked for Purim.
With a great deal of restraint, I managed to photograph the hamantaschen before wolfing them all down with my morning coffee. Rocco, on the other hand, waited hungrily but patiently, not wanting to further add to his food thieving reputation.
Want to make hamantaschen? Try these recipes for your own tasty triangles: