March 2, 2009

A Purim Industry Takes Shape

Purim is no longer a one-day event that happens to fall 30 days before Passover. With $250 gift baskets and a growing number of Web sites, it has emerged as a serious event for manufacturers and retailers. A rabbi who was trying to figure out how the holiday evolved from a requirement to send two foods to two people to a multi-million dollar holiday speculated that Purim was another example of modern-day marketing. He said that his wife prepared nearly 150 Mishloach Monos packages that are sent to acquaintances, growing each year by 20. Some charities have made Purim a focal point of the year-round fundraising with some preparing upward of 20,000 packages for sale as a way of raising money for a school or synagogue. The rabbi yearned for the simple days when Mishloach Monos was a relatively simple way of gift giving as prescribed in Megillas Esther (Book of Esther). What fascinated me is that Purim is no longer a holiday celebrated in some rigorously Orthodox neighborhoods, but in many more secular Jewish communities. Supermarkets around the country now have gift baskets on display. My rabbi friend described how his wife begins thinking of creative ideas months before Purim, “probably trying to outdo her friends, “he says. SuperValu did not loose sight of the growing number of Purim celebrants, running special promotions on foods used for Mishloach Monos as well as the festive meal. Wine and liquor stores around the country are reporting increased sales of the more expensive variety. At Pomegranate in Brooklyn, Mishloach Monos meant giving customers a choice of filling a basket of gourmet cheeses, sauces, and even olives. One Long Island retailer called a holiday “that launches the bigger missile, Passover.” But there is no question that Purim has made it on the Jewish calendar, big time and even in a recession.