Who made the hamantashen
March 2, 2018
One of the nicest things about our community in Florida is our diversity. Often, while I am working out in my exercise class or enjoying a concert or eating in our small bistro, I am struck by the number of people from all cultures, ethnicities, and countries that live here. An example of our melting pot was seen in the Shapiro's Who-Made-the-Hamantashen tale.
In May 2016, my husband, Larry, and I purchased tickets for a Flores de Mayo celebration that was being sponsored by our community's Filipino Club. I had met several of its members through my cardio ballroom dancing class, and they had hyped up the event for several weeks before the May event. "Lots of fun! Great music," one of the organizers told me. "Just bring a dish to share with your table."
Although not familiar with Flores de Mayo, I knew of Cinco de Mayo, the Hispanic celebration held every year on May 5 that involved food and colorful costumes. We bought the tickets and made arrangements to sit with our friends Farida and Abdul whom we first met at a cocktail party for new residents of our 55 plus community.
Farida and I reconnected at the cardio ballroom class and struck up a friendship. She mentioned casually that she was involved in ballet when she lived in Egypt. One day, she shared a picture on her iPhone-a stunning portrait of her as Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer's curse in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Faridah was not just a dancer, she was a prima ballerina for an Egyptian ballet company. "Faridah," I commented," you are a ballet dancer like Billy Joel is a piano player!"
Not only was she involved in dance. Her daughter-in-law, a beautiful, vibrant Hispanic woman, taught the class.
I put the event on our calendar for the date in May and tucked the tickets away until I grabbed them on our way out the door. When we arrived at the venue where the event was being held, the lobby filled with women in elaborate Filipino costumes and men in suits. For a moment I thought I was at a formal ball, not a Flores de Mayo program. When we entered the ballroom, we breathed a sigh of relief. Everyone in the audience was dressed in Florida casual-tropical shirts and shorts for men; capris or skirts and nice tops for the women.
We rushed to claim our two seats just as the formal program began. Filipino couples began filing into the room, each group behind a large icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. No, Flores de Mayo was obviously not related to the Hispanic holiday. Adapting quickly, we sat back and enjoyed the pageantry, the costumes, and the musical and dance entertainment that followed.
I later learned that Flores de Mayo is held each May to celebrate the finding of the True Cross in 320 C.E by Helena of Constantinople and her son Constantine the Great, emperor of the Roman Empire. The Santacruzan, which we had observed, is the ritual pageant held on the last day of religious Catholic celebration.
Once the program was over, we were able to say hello to our tablemates. What struck me immediately was the diversity represented not only in the room but at our own table. Larry and I were enjoying a Filipino celebration of the Catholic's Blessed Virgin Mary with Velma, our next door neighbor who was African-American; our friends who had emigrated from Egypt and whose son was married to our Hispanic cardio ballroom instructor; and our down-the-street-neighbor Eileen, whose last name spoke clearly to her husband's Polish ancestry. We all unwrapped our "potluck" snack items: my hummus and chips; Velma's fruit platter; Farida and Mohammed's dukkah, a popular Egyptian dip made up of herbs, nuts and spices; and Eileen's hamantashen.
"Eileen," I asked. "Did you make the hamantashen?"
"Yes," she said. "An old family favorite."
"I didn't know you were Jewish," I said.
"I'm not," she said. "My mother got the recipe from her German neighbor."
"And she was Jewish?"
"No," Eileen said. "She was Christian like us. She told my it was an old Russian recipe."
So here were Larry and I, two Jews, at a table celebrating a Filipino Catholic holiday with an African-American, two Muslims whose grandchildren were half Hispanic, and a Christian who made the best hamantashen I had ever eaten. Who knew?
The following March, I was in Colorado baby-sitting for my granddaughter during Purim. Larry called me to tell me that someone had dropped off a plate of hamantashen. He didn't recognize the woman, so I asked him to describe her.
"She is a woman about your age and your height with grey hair," he said.
"That describes half the women in our community," I said. "Maybe it was someone from the Shalom Club." I listed a number of names with no success.
It wasn't until I returned that I realized who had dropped off the hamantashen. While getting ready for my cardio ballroom class that was being taught by the Hispanic daughter-in-law of my Muslim friend, I spotted Eileen lining up in the back of the room.
"Eileen, did you bring hamantashen over to Larry last week?" I asked.
"Yes," Eileen said. "I don't think Larry recognized me."
"No, he didn't," I said. "But he loved them and even saved some for me. How did you know it was Purim?"
It didn't matter. Eileen's hamantashen, no matter what her background, are the best. And her hamantashen will be served in our home this Purim. Chag Samaech!
Marilyn Shapiro lives in Kissimmee. She writes regularly for the Jewish World in Schenectady, and published her book "There Goes My Heart," which is available on Amazon. You may also follow her on her blog, theregoesmyheart.me.